The faces of central and west central Minnesota have changed over the last decade as refugee and immigrants caused the populations of Willmar and Saint Cloud to swell. Most of these individuals work in meatpacking plants. In addition to the inherent challenges many immigrants and refugees face, they must also contend with the dangers of working in these plants.
However, there is determined community leadership in place that took the initiative to form a health action council. The council is part of the Midwest Immigrant Health Project and its goal is to address the health concerns of packinghouse and processing communities for the benefit of vulnerable immigrant workers and their families.
A few weeks ago the leadership of this effort tirelessly coordinated basic training around plant safety with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Due to increased worker injuries and inadequate safety measures this training was invaluable. In the long-run these trainings will counteract the advantage of corporations who are able to exploit labor, safety, and workers compensation regulations.
When a worker suffers a debilitating injury, the first human instinct is to help the worker and his family because they have sacrificed for something greater. But in the meatpacking industry the thinking is that workers are at the mercy of employers, injured or not. This company’s strength is far greater than the poor employee.
The training that was led by OSHA enforcement experts was fruitful because it taught workers the process and role they play in making their plants safe for employees.
It was quite interesting to listen to the questions employees were asking the presenters, such as how to file a complaint, how long the process takes after you file a complaint, and the consequences to the employer for an unsafe plant.
It’s the first step in many years. The hope is to have continued training, education, and progress for the benefit of all.