Workers to demonstrate Saturday
By Jeff Hansel
Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN
A group of slaughterhouse workers plan a "peaceful-public demonstration" Saturday at Quality Pork Processors in Austin.
They want relief for QPP employees, who they say contracted a neurological illness related to their work.
But union and company officials say they aren’t aware of any workers who have been mistreated because of their contraction of progressive inflammatory neuropathy, or PIN.
The illness was discovered last year among employees who harvested pig-brain tissue, or who worked nearby in the Austin plant. PIN causes neurological symptoms like numbness, pain and walking troubles. After its discovery, QPP in Austin, the Hormel plant in Fremont, Neb. and Indiana Packers Corp. in Delphi, Ind. all discontinued using high-pressure air to harvest pig brains.
"We are suffering from this strange disease which has invaded our body," worker Felicitas Olivas said in a statement from Centro Campesino, a migrant workers rights organization. "This situation has become a trauma not only for us but for our children as well."
Worker demands include reinstatement of workers who lost jobs because of PIN, expedite workers’ compensation claims and adhere to physician-ordered work restrictions.
But the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 9 in Austin, said about half the people diagnosed with PIN, so far, have already begun receiving workers compensation.
Also, said Richard Morgan, QPP has accommodated the needs of employees with work restrictions.
"Anybody that’s been on restrictions, that we’re aware of, the business agent over there has made sure that they’ve had light-duty jobs," Morgan said. "Nobody, to my knowledge, has come forward to us claiming that they’ve been mistreated due to this illness. If they have been, they need to stop down and tell us. We represent the people that work there."
Workers’ compensation is a slow process, Morgan said.
"There is light at the end of the tunnel. It just takes a little time," he said.
QPP chief executive officer Kelly Wadding said he’s been open with workers, health officials and the news media. Wadding said he was contacted by Centro Campesino and tried to address the concerns.
"They made a lot of accusations. But they didn’t give me any names or any specifics," Wadding said. Some workers were fired who could not produce documentation that they can legally work in the U.S., he said. But if they get diagnosed with PIN and apply for workers’ compensation, "they will be covered."
"I know of no one that was fired because they had PIN," Wadding said. "I know of no one that we didn’t follow the (doctor-ordered work) restrictions."
A version of this story appeared in the Wednesday edition of the Austin Post-Bulletin.