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Report: Tyson Foods' Control Over Poultry Industry Hurts Workers, Farmers

Emily Scott

(Arkansas News Service) Tyson Foods is one of the largest poultry producers in the country, and a new report showed the Arkansas-based company's industry dominance has had some crushing effects on its contract farmers and plant workers.

The Union of Concerned Scientists' report detailed how Tyson, the third-largest employer in Arkansas, has a monopoly-like control over poultry processing.

Ricardo Salvador, director of the food and environment program for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said Tyson's political power and its high market concentration have put many of its plant workers physically at risk due to high labor demands, especially during COVID-19.

"If we did not have the workers that perform the brutal, menial labor of agriculture, the entire system would collapse," Salvador asserted. "And they deserve to have the same wages, the same benefits, the same livelihood and workplace protections that the rest of us assume are our rights."

Poultry plant workers are exposed to many physical health threats on the job, including musculoskeletal disorders, dangerous chemicals, traumatic injuries from operating machinery, and more.

The pandemic exacerbated many of these health risks. According to the report, industry lobbyists for Tyson and others pressed to have then-President Donald Trump sign the executive order early on in the pandemic, which declared the plants essential to reopen.

Magaly Licolli, executive director of the worker-based nonprofit group Venceremos said the pandemic displayed the power that Tyson has over the state and how it hurts workers, many of whom are predominantly people of color.

"Many immigrants living in Arkansas that worked in this industry, many of them cannot work anywhere else, so it creates this cycle of poverty," Licolli contended. "They're seen as disposable, so eventually they will need to find resources to survive."

Salvador argued one solution would be to strengthen antitrust laws to better evaluate the country's agriculture supply chain. Licolli noted Venceremos is working on a petition they plan to deliver to Tyson leadership in the coming weeks, calling for increased wages.