Gwen sliced and packed chicken meat at a Perdue poultry processing plant in Kentucky. She experienced increasing pain and numbness in her hands from the fast work speeds and repetitive motions she performed. Ms. Clements’ pain worsened as the plant failed to follow its own policy of gradually increasing work speeds for workers recovering from injuries. Soon after being diagnosed with early stage Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Ms. Clements was fired for missing work due to bronchitis. She believes that her bronchitis was brought on by over-exposure to chemicals in the plant.
In Gwen's own words:
"My name is Gwen Clements. I worked a Perdue Farms poultry processing plant in Kentucky for over a year until I was fired earlier this year.
I started out on the thin slice line where I sliced chicken breasts and packed them onto trays. I was then transferred to the leg line where I packed chicken legs in layers. I was required to layer pack 47 pieces per minute. Sometimes the supervisors timed us to make sure we were working fast enough. They put a lot of pressure on us to keep up with the fast pace of the plant.
After performing the same repetitive motions day after day, I started to feel pain in my hands. The pain became unbearable after I switched to the leg line. It was so bad it kept me awake at night.
I went to the company nurse and she told my supervisor to slow down my line and then gradually increase the speed. This is called “ramping in”. My supervisor did not comply with her request and I had to keep up the same fast pace despite the pain. I went to the nurse several more times. Each time, she advised my supervisor to ramp me in and, each time, my supervisor ignored my request.
According to the company policies, all new hires and workers transferring to a new line should be ramped in. But I never once saw the supervisors slow down the line for anyone. We are under too much pressure to meet the daily orders. The company does not follow its own policies.
The medication, creams and wrists splints that the nurse gave me did not help alleviate my pain. The pain got so bad that I was taken off the line for two weeks. When I returned, my supervisor again failed to slow down the line speed.
I sought outside medical attention and was diagnosed with the early stages of carpal tunnel syndrome. The company disputed the diagnosis and put me back on the line.
In addition to excruciating hand pain, I also developed respiratory problems while working in the plant and fell ill with Bronchitis on four occasions. I believe the Bronchitis was triggered by the chemicals in the plant. Sometimes the chlorine fumes were so strong that I would smell and taste chlorine after leaving the plant. The next day, I wouldn’t be able to breathe.
After more than a year at Perdue, I was fired at the beginning of January. I believe I was fired for complaining to the company about my work-related health problems.
Unfortunately, my story is not unique. Many of my co-workers also suffered from the dangerously fast work speeds. And many were fired when their injuries got worse. "