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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Poultry and meat workers quit in numbers rivaling almost any industry. That's because their physically tough work is among the least-pleasant on the planet.

What's new: Tyson Foods — the largest American poultry producer — is getting praised by industry activists for improved conditions, including higher wages and an education program for its largely immigrant work force.

  • Wages were an average of $14.78 an hour last year, the company says in a report issued last month.
  • Hundreds of the company's workers have participated in an in-plant education program, called Upward Academy, says Kevin Scherer, senior manager for employee social responsibility at Tyson.
  • The education program, done in partnership with state and local government funding, reached its 27th plant last month.

The background: Tyson has been under intense scrutiny for worker injuries and other problems, but two years ago agreed to join a program organized by Oxfam to improve worker conditions. Oxfam's Minor Sinclair said he tried to get the four major food companies to participate — Tyson, Perdue, Pilgrim's Pride and Sanderson Farms — but that only Tyson agreed.

  • "Our sense is that Tyson's has taken real steps forward improving pay," Sincair tells Axios. "It's a work in progress. You don't move to a totally clean slate. They are on the right path, engaging in a serious way and responsive to us and other people."

In response to an email, Pilgrim's referred questions to his sustainability report for 2017. Case and Sanderson Farms did not respond.

The industry is so tough that Tyson and the other companies have to scour the U.S. for mostly immigrant workers willing to do the job, said Christopher Leonard, author of The Meat Racket, a book on Tyson.

  • Leonard tells Axios that workers are immigrants coming from as far away as southeast Asia and Somalia.
  • Scherer said there can be 30 different languages spoken in the plants.
  • This is the rationale behind Upward Academy, which teaches English, ordinary life skills, and preparation for U.S. citizenship.

"The problem we are trying to address is the issue of stability," Scherer said. "My team deeply believes that if you can bring stability to a person in family life you can bring stability to work force metrics. It makes great business sense."

Go deeper: Last year, the New Yorker's Michael Grabell profiled Case Farms.

Go deeper

UN poll: Most see climate change as global emergency amid pandemic

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg (C) fronts a Fridays For Future protest at the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm in September. Photo: Jonathan Nacksrtrand/AFP via Getty Images

64% of people from around the world say climate change is a global emergency, a United Nations poll published Wednesday finds.

Why it matters: It's biggest global survey on climate change ever conducted, with some 1.2 million participants from 50 countries — including the U.S. where 65% of those surveyed view climate change as an emergency.

Collins helps contractor before pro-Susan PAC gets donation

Sen. Susan Collins during her reelection campaign. Photo: Scott Eisen/Getty Images

A PAC backing Sen. Susan Collins in her high-stakes reelection campaign received $150,000 from an entity linked to the wife of a defense contractor whose firm Collins helped land a federal contract, new public records show.

Why it matters: The executive, Martin Kao of Honolulu, leaned heavily on his political connections to boost his business, federal prosecutors say in an ongoing criminal case against him. The donation linked to Kao was veiled until last week.

How cutting GOP corporate cash could backfire

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Companies pulling back on political donations, particularly to members of Congress who voted against certifying President Biden's election win, could inadvertently push Republicans to embrace their party's rightward fringe.

Why it matters: Scores of corporate PACs have paused, scaled back or entirely abandoned their political giving programs. While designed to distance those companies from events that coincided with this month's deadly siege on the U.S. Capitol, research suggests the moves could actually empower the far-right.