'Open Secret' at Chicken Slaughterhouses: Kids at Work

Hannah Dreier reports on it for 'New York Times Magazine'
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 23, 2023 4:30 PM CDT
'Open Secret' at Chicken Slaughterhouses: Kids at Work
File photo of a facility where chickens are grown for slaughter.   (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

He was, according to his hospital paperwork, a 20-year-old man named Francisco. But hospital staffers in rural Virginia were perplexed because the patient in front of them—his arm nearly severed in a gruesome accident at a chicken slaughterhouse—was clearly just a kid. Investigative reporter Hannah Dreier explains the discrepancy in a New York Times Magazine story. "Francisco" was really 14-year-old Marcos. He'd come from Guatemala on his own and made it to a trailer park called Dreamland in Parksley, Virginia, where he moved in with his older cousin and her family. He bought fake paperwork from a neighbor to become "Francisco," and landed a job with a cleaning company for the nearby Perdue chicken factory. The story focuses on Marcos (doctors were able to save his arm), but Dreier makes clear his story is not an anomaly.

"When he was hired, children made up as much as a third of the overnight cleaning crew at the Perdue plant, workers told me," she writes. In Parksley and towns like it, the widespread practice of hiring migrant minors is an "open secret," the story explains. Often, they don't work directly for companies such as Perdue and Tyson, but for contractors who perform work at the plants. These underage workers go to school as best they can, often heading straight there (as Marcos did) from the graveyard shift, their eyes red from cleaning chemicals. Dreier herself enters the story as a factor: In May, word got out that she was visiting Parksley and reporting on the plant. Perdue "sent out a warning that I was looking into its operations. Soon slaughterhouses around the country began passing out fliers with my photograph." (The full story is a compelling, if disturbing, read.)

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