Back when Gwen Clements worked at the Perdue chicken plant in Beaver Dam, Kentucky, she stood beside a conveyor belt blanketed in chicken parts for eight hours each day. Usually she packed drumsticks, but whichever part of the bird she happened to be packing on a given shift, the smell was as constant as it was noxious: a combination of raw poultry and chlorine, the latter emanating from the pathogen-killing chemical bath that the carcasses-often contaminated with fecal matter-would receive during processing. Every one-and-a-half seconds or so, Clements would grab a piece of meat with her gloved hands and layer it between sheets of plastic inside a box that could hold up to 40 pounds of chicken parts. By the time she left her job in January of 2014, roughly two years after she had started, she had developed carpal tunnel syndrome and bronchitis, both of which she now attributes to her time at Perdue.

When I spoke with Clements over the phone recently, she recalled how the line at Perdue would get backed up whenever it wasn’t fully staffed. These backups, she told me, frequently resulted in the raw meat spilling onto the factory floor. Not surprisingly, given her experience […]

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