Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Focus: Work "Death in a New York Food Sweatshop"

Summary of the article, "Death in New York Sweat Shops" by: Daniel Gross

"Hundreds of small and mid-sized food warehouses line an industrial corridor starting in East Williamsburg and Bushwick, and extending into the Ridgewood and Maspeth neighborhoods of Queens".


The aim of these factories is food processing, and package these various goods (see article for a detailed list), and send them off to grocery stores, restaurants, and vendors prior to your consumption of them or their final destination point which is your dinner table. How do these factories run? Well, this article states that it is through "sweat-shop like conditions" that the operation of packaging food supplies is completed.

The work conditions are: "Wage theft, reckless disregard for the safety of workers, grueling shifts through the night, and abusive management are all common hardships facing workers in the sector. The work is heavy and exhausting [...]".

The young man - Juan Baten - aged 22 - with a new little girl, and wife at home tragically died at a tortilla factory called Tortilleria Chinantla where he was crushed by an industrial dough making machine. Not only did this factory take his life due to the harsh and unsafe conditions but, "Mr. Baten's workplace did not have a union and had never been inspected by OSHA, the federal workplace safety authority". Mr. Baten's job description consisted of 12 hr days, and night shifts (starting from 6pm - and ending at 6am) six days a week.

It is somewhat comforting to know that action is being taken on the part of the New York State Workers Compensation Board. Due to the factory owner being unable to provide worker's compensation coverage as a result of death at the workplace the factory was closed. The workers of these eastern Williamsburg, Brooklyn factories have the right to file a complaint about these work conditions. The shifts for example being night shifts and working with heavy duty machinery, as well as things like how many people are working at a time - correlating with the work speed at which you are expected to work - wages, and safety... are all examples of things that should be taken into consideration by employees.

As the article states when accidental workplace deaths take place people wonder things like, what kind of training do employees receive? What is the supervision, and is there any? Was the equipment maintained, and updated to regulations?

This article really pulls on your emotions, and heart strings. They say that Jan's death was fully presentable and if he had still been working presently that he and his family would have been able to save enough to go back to Guatamala. Instead the reality is much harsher, and this family will never be seeing their husband, and father again. The inconsistency of factories like these is a prominent social justice issue in the U.S. It is said to admit, but until a tragedy happens these issues don't get resolved, and people tend to turn away from reality. The article also states this fact, and continues to go on to say that this issue of unacceptable work environments, and pay affects, "workers of color and immigrants" more so.

"To lend a hand through solidarity actions, financial support, or to share any other ideas you might have, please connect with the Focus campaign at http://tinyurl.com/focusonthefoodchain or focus@brandworkers.org" or visit the article for a more in depth account of this tragic death.

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