In October 2018, I started working in a meat manufacturing facility as a Quality Assurance Tech. The company was not transparent in the interview with me or anyone else about the hours and schedule. I was told that my hours would be Monday through Friday from 6am to 2:30pm, but after starting, I was told to come in at 5am instead of 6am.
Employees mentioned to me that sometimes they were made to work seven days straight for months. And then it happened: management told us we had to work mandatory overtime, 6-7 days a week, indefinitely. The shifts were nine hours long for my role and up to 12 hours for the line workers. Some worked double shifts. Oftentimes, many of them didn’t get a full lunch break. They only got 30 minutes for lunch and one 15 minute break in the morning for their whole shift. The night shift hours, which I was required to work for a period of time, were even worse and could go from 2:30pm until 2am, and sometimes even all night.
During the holidays, We only had Christmas day off followed by six days of work. They did this schedule with every holiday – one day off and no overtime pay. On Christmas Eve, I couldn’t wait for work to end on my day shift. I was sad that we didn’t get out early or get any extra days off for the holiday. During my shift, I was told that we weren’t actually able to leave at our normal time that day because there is no second shift on Christmas Eve, meaning that first shift was required to stay until the end, which didn’t have a real set time. I was unable to maintain my personal health routines of eating well and exercising that I had established before beginning that job, and I never saw friends or family.
I was unable to work on personal goals and also wasn’t feeling a sense of advancement at work. I started feeling very angry, depressed and suicidal.
The work culture was awful. It seemed like management did not care about it’s employees and had double standards. They did not have good benefits to offer, and work was all that mattered to anyone. If you wanted to call off for any reason, you were considered lazy and invalidated. Management never considered employee perspectives and distrusted them, always assuming the worst. One person was written up for not wanting to work on Sundays because he wanted to go to church.
The environment became completely chaotic and unsafe. New employees didn’t follow the rules and old employees stopped following a lot of them too. Between construction and other changes to the building, it became inconvenient and problematic for all the workers inside. The numerous carts of product, pallets for packages, and forklifts filled with ingredients made the environment look like a war zone. Construction would block off different parts of the building including entrances and doorways in the middle of the work day. The floor in one area was overcrowded with equipment and was very slippery. Each day, employees had to take hurried tiny steps across the ground trying not to fall as they worked. Multiple people slipped and one person was injured.
Apparently this sort of nonsense and lack of care for workers is common in factories. Many of the workers are immigrants and not fluent in English or aware of their rights. They are exploited in these factories. They did not properly train or fairly compensate their employees, and HR did not address any of the issues.
The worst part for me was realizing that there is no law in Pennsylvania to ensure workers get a break dependent on the hours worked, and that there is no law protecting against chronic forced overtime. To this day, I’m continuing to contact labor unions, labor organizations and the U.S. Department of Labor to bring attention to these conditions.