Commentary: Some unkind cuts for underage workers

This editorial appeared in The News & Observer.

Why would a young teenager, physically perhaps more child than adult, want to work in a chicken processing plant – cold, slippery, stressful, dangerous with knives flying everywhere? There are three reasons: money, money and money.

No, it's not a fortune, but the wages may seem attractive to a youth from Mexico or Guatemala, say, where decent-paying jobs for the unskilled are vanishingly scarce. Or it may be that the lure of steady income tips the scales for someone who's already, legally, here.

So down to the chicken plant they go. They have to bring papers showing that they're old enough to be hired – at least 18, the federal threshold to work in meat processing because of the hazards involved. But there are ways to come up with fake documentation, and if the papers look OK, the employer isn't supposed to investigate further. So you there, kid – grab a knife and start cutting. No, faster!

This is the grim pattern brought to light by The Charlotte Observer in its reporting on conditions at poultry plants owned by House of Raeford Farms Inc. Articles carried by The N&O on Sunday and Monday made it clear that the company, despite its stated intention to follow the law, has failed to keep underage workers off its payroll.

It's true that these workers are willing, and they may even have broken the law by sneaking into the country and/or lying about their age.

To read the complete editorial, visit The News & Observer.

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