Keep minors out of meatpacking plants


By Barb  Arland-Fye
Messenger Editorial

A man from a parish in our diocese says the meatpacking plant where he and his wife are employed has some simple jobs but also some very dangerous jobs. He says workers are “poorly taught” in their jobs. He wonders why Iowa legislators would have even thought of allowing minors to work at a meatpacking plant. Federal and state law prevent minors from working in a meatpacking plant because of the particularly hazardous nature of such employment.

Yet, Iowa legislators advanced a proposed bill last week that would allow minors ages 14 to 17 to work in jobs currently off limits, such as meatpacking plants and factories, as part of a training program through their school or employer. The proposed bill, which deals with youth employment, prohibits “Work activities in or about slaughtering and meatpacking establishments and rendering plants, provided that work activities in office, shipping and assembly areas shall not be prohibited ….” However, a new section made an exception in the case of “approved career and technical education, work-based learning, internship, registered apprenticeship programs, and student learners” (

The bill’s supporters added an amendment March 6 to Senate File 167 that would not permit the directors of the departments of Labor and Education to extend waivers for students to work in mining, explosives, radiation, logging or slaughtering/meatpacking. That is an encouraging development. However, the bill remains a work in progress, said Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference.


To make that amendment stick, we should remind our legislators of the Code of Federal Regulations regarding child labor regulation. It states, “The following occupations in or about slaughtering and meat packing establishments, rendering plants, or wholesale retail or service establishments are particularly hazardous for the employment of minors between 16 and 18 years of age or detrimental to their health or well-being” (

Furthermore, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) identifies the “many serious safety and health hazards in the meat packing industry” that include “exposure to high noise levels, dangerous equipment, slippery floors, musculoskeletal disorders, and hazardous chemicals (including ammonia that is used as a refrigerant)” (

Meatpacking plant workers can also be “exposed to biological hazards associated with handling live animals or exposures to feces and blood which can increase the risk for many diseases.” Meatpacking plants implement common hazard control measures as required by law but how effective are these measures? How effectively do employees adhere to them? Would teens have the maturity to comply consistently with these measures?

Other concerns to consider: how many financially strapped families might apply pressure on their 14- to 17-year-old sons and daughters, explicitly or implicitly, to work in a meatpacking plant to help make ends meet? The proposed bill also calls for an extension of work hours for teens. How would working a couple of extra hours a day affect a teen’s ability to complete schoolwork and advance his or her education?

“Economic Justice for All,” a pastoral letter of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, would be worth reflecting on as we consider the answers to these questions ( In the opening paragraph, the bishops state: “Our faith calls us to measure this economy not only by what it produces, but also by how it touches human life and whether it protects or undermines the dignity of the human person. Economic decisions have human consequences and moral content; they help or hurt people, strengthen or weaken family life, advance or diminish the quality of justice in our land” (1).

The meatpacking plant worker expressed worries that kids working at a meatpacking plant would face even greater risk of injury because of their young age. He and wife were among 15 to 20 meatpacking plant workers who shared their concerns about Iowa’s proposed legislation with Bishop Thomas Zinkula last week in Columbus Junction. The bishop said he would share their concerns with the other Iowa bishops and the Iowa Catholic Conference, which is the public policy voice for the bishops.

Now we need to advocate on behalf of our minors. Go to to read the bill (SF 167). Send a message to Iowa’s legislators to pass a law that keeps our minors out of meatpacking plants. The Iowa Catholic Conference is also tracking this legislation and other bills that matter to us as Iowans of faith (

Barb Arland-Fye, Editor

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1 thought on “Keep minors out of meatpacking plants

  1. Please do not object to young folks leaning how to work. We are destroying our workplaces with folks who do not want to or know how to WORK.

    All jobs are under the glass of osha. These folks do a good job policing the workplace with very stiff consequences for those who do not follow the law.

    Please encourage all businesses / factories to safely employee anyone 12 yrs. and up with jobs these folks are capable of safely doing.
    There is nothing wrong with young folks learning how to work and enjoy the fruits of their labor. Anything we do to discourage young folks from working is the wrong direction for our society. We must help / teach our young folks how to work safely/ productively in our world. We need laws rules to protect businesses from all lawyers advertising on tv to enhance their own wealth. Or these folks will be the only ones employed in the future.

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