Question: business magazines and newspapers regularly publish articles about the changing...
Business magazines and newspapers regularly publish articles about the changing nature of work in the United States and about how many jobs are being changed. Because so much has been made of the shift toward service-sector and professional jobs, many people might assume that the number of unpleasant and undesirable jobs has declined. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. While many Americans work in gleaming air-conditioned facilities, millions of others work in dirty, grimy, unsafe settings. For example, many jobs in the recycling industry require workers to sort through moving conveyors of trash, pulling out those items that can be recycled. The trash, though, may contain used syringes, old razor
blades, and other sharp objects. Other relatively unattractive jobs include cleaning hospital restrooms, washing dishes in a restaurant, and handling toxic waste. Consider the jobs in a chickenprocessing facility. Much like a manufacturing assembly line, a chicken-processing facility is organized around a moving conveyor system. Workers call it the chain. In reality, it’s a steel cable with large clips that carries dead chickens down what might be called a “disassembly line.” Standing along this line are dozens of workers who do, in fact, take the birds apart as they pass. Even the titles of the jobs are unsavory. Among the first set of jobs along the chain is the skinner. Skinners use sharp instruments to cut and pull the skin off the dead chicken. Toward the middle of the line are the gut pullers. These workers reach inside the chicken carcasses and remove the intestines and other organs. At the end of the line are the gizzard cutters, who tackle the more difficult organs attached to the inside of the chicken’s carcass. These organs have to be individually cut and removed for disposal. The work is obviously distasteful, and the pace of the work is unrelenting. On a good day, the chain moves an average of 90 chickens a minute for 9 hours. And the workers are essentially held captive by the moving chain. For example, no one can vacate a post to use the bathroom or for other reasons without the permission of the supervisor. In some plants, taking an unauthorized bathroom break can result in suspension without pay. But the noise in a typical chickenprocessing plant is so loud that the supervisor often can’t hear someone calling for relief unless the person happens to be standing close by. Besides being unpleasant and dirty, many jobs in a chickenprocessing plant are dangerous and unhealthy. Some workers, for example, have to fight the live birds when they are first hung on the chains. These workers are routinely scratched and pecked by the chickens. And the air inside a typical chicken-processing plant is difficult to breathe. Workers are usually supplied with paper masks, but most don’t use them because they are hot and confining. The work space itself is so tight that the workers often cut themselves—and sometimes their coworkers—with the knives, scissors, and other instruments they use to perform their jobs. Poultry processing ranks third among industries in the United States for cumulative trauma injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome. The inevitable chicken feathers, feces, and blood also contribute to the hazardous and unpleasant work environment. Jobs such as these in the chicken-processing facility are actually becoming increasingly common. Fueled by Americans’ growing appetites for lean, easy-to-cook meat, the number of poultry workers has almost doubled since 1980, and today they constitute a workforce of around a quartermillion people. The chicken-processing industry has become a major component of the state economies of Georgia, North Carolina, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Alabama.49
1. How relevant are the concepts of competencies to the jobs in a chicken-processing plant?
2. What information sources would be of most significance regarding jobs in a chicken-processing plant?
3. Are dirty, dangerous, and unpleasant jobs an inevitable part of any economy?