In a few days, the PBS documentary film, “Doing Virtuous Business” will be shown in Indianapolis, Indiana. The film examines virtues and principles such as patience, compassion, forgiveness and humility, and their influence on organizational priorities, economic impact and social structures.
This documentary contains a segment called, “Taking Care of the Team,” featuring Chairman John Tyson, current CEO Donnie Smith and Chaplain Rick McKinnie of Tyson Foods, Inc. The segment is a twisted piece of propaganda that purports to show that the focus of Tyson’s vision and mission is one that values a “faith-friendly” environment in its Springdale, Arkansas and other massive meat processing facilities. This segment might more aptly be titled, “Taking ONE FOR THE Team.”
Viewers don’t have to watch more than five minutes to see the truth about Tyson Foods: workers “on the line” (those processing thousands of poultry, pork and beef products daily) are not on “the team,” nor being taken “care of” by “the team,” but instead are basically invisible to “the team.” Tyson Foods’ racist and power- laden segment appallingly shows workers in corporate offices and on the processing floors – two divergent “teams.”
The film shows Latino workers wearing aprons and hairnets on the processing floor; while white workers are shown in business dress or donning their Tyson shirt. White workers are shown in the corporate offices, sitting in cubicles surrounded by personal computer technology, conversing with white co-workers (except the janitorial staff) or walking leisurely through offices. On the other hand, Latino workers are found standing, surrounded by conveyor belts, raw meat, sharp knives and heavy scissors - doing repetitive tasks all day. Tyson’s attempt to be viewed as a company that “takes care of the team” falls quite short.
Tyson Foods is the largest and most profitable producer of poultry in this country, and relies heavily on the labor of immigrant and refugee workers, low wage scales, and oppressive working conditions. Line workers, unlike members of the office “team” work 12 hour days, suffer from repetitive motion injuries as the lines move at unsafe speeds.
Workers’ responsibilities along the line are to kill or cut up poultry and do so under unsafe and very difficult conditions. Unlike the pristine surroundings and cordial dialogues of the office “team” shown in the film, real line workers robotically process 30 turkeys a minute, 20,000 cuts each day (resulting in repetitive stress injuries), experience wage theft in some cases and report that they are verbally abused by supervisors.
Workers on the line stand for hours, working at lightning speed – cutting, lifting, pushing and pulling pounds of meat under the pressures of productivity and efficiency. Workers must choose between things like bathroom breaks or doctor’s appointment, receiving punitive negative points and risk being unjustly terminated or continue working the line.
The most hypocritical point in Tyson’s segment of the film is the spotlight on Tyson Foods’ chaplaincy program. Amidst the difficulties of oppressive work conditions, already intimidated workers fear retaliation for speaking up on due wages, verbal abuse and safety, are then subjected to the confusing role and manipulative positioning of clergy who are paid for, sponsored and strategically placed in the plants by the corporation. What sacrilege!
Even as workers play a major role in the achievement of significant profits experienced by Tyson Foods in recent years, they continue the struggle to have the line speed reduced to safe levels, be paid their due wages, and re-learn life skills after life-changing worker injuries. Sadly, if it were the case that Tyson were truly compassionate and had genuine respect for all Tyson Foods workers, particularly immigrant and refugee workers, workers would certainly welcome and benefit from the acts of these virtues.