Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2000


Death and disability remain serious problems in the meatpacking industry, which increasingly depends on Latino workers. Here we examine these problems and the dynamics that heighten and minimize the hazards encountered in meatpacking plants. Drawing from published and unpublished sources, we provide statistical profiles and ethnographic accounts to capture the health and safety risks Latino workers face in the meatpacking plants of Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska. Guided by recent research in labor market segmentation and the politics of social regulation, we trace the increased risk of injury and illness for Latinos to three intersecting dynamics: corporate conduct and misconduct on the shop floor, segmented labor markets and limited unionization, and finally, the failure of regulatory agencies to set standards and actively enforce health and safety laws. While these problems occur across the tri-state region, our analysis indicates that the responsiveness of regulatory actors varies by state-and the dynamics that drive inspections and penalties also vary, to some extent, across states. More specifically, regulatory officials in Iowa have historically been more responsive to complaints and accidents, in part due to union pressure. These findings suggest several important lessons for both scholars and labor that are not fully acknowledged in previous research.


Published in Great Plains Research 10 (Fall 2000): 253-74. Copyright © 2000 The Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Used by permission.