'Poultry Justice'

Why Bush took on the chicken cartel

No one would expect President George W. Bush to rush to the defense of worker rights, yet in at least one sector, his administration is acting ideologically out of character. After going after one leading poultry processor and coming to regulatory blows with another, the Department of Labor (DOL) is putting the whole chicken industry on notice that it may owe workers hundreds of millions of dollars for time worked off the clock.

Last year, the DOL seemed to dither amid calls to action on behalf of poultry workers. More recently its stance has been unequivocal as well as unfriendly to industry. The reason for this bend in policy could be plausibly summed up in three words-faith-based organizations. The administration’s new attentiveness is traceable to activists who belong to interfaith "worker justice" groups, particularly in the South, which is home to most of the nation’s poultry plants. In alliance with labor and pro-immigrant forces, these activists have helped call attention to chicken factories where workers typically earn less than $7 an hour (the lowest pay in the meat industry), and suffer among the highest rates of industrial workplace injury. The campaign has been organized by the Chicago-based National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, and includes sixty local religious coalitions, a few dedicated solely to "poultry justice." At the heart of this particular fight are decades-old pay...

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About the Author

William Bole is a journalist and co-author, with Bob Abernethy, of The Life of Meaning: Reflections on Faith, Doubt, and Repairing the World.