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Perdue workers are treated well

We agree with one point in the commentary, "Poultry processing, a thankless job" (Feb. 7): The people who bring chicken to our tables deserve to be recognized. We are proud of our associates and their commitment to the wholesomeness and quality of our products and to workplace safety. Theirs is not an easy job; the factors that are important in food safety — water from continuous cleaning and cool temperatures — make for a cold, wet environment. However, we take exception with the rest of the opinion piece and offer the following facts.

Perdue offers competitive pay and benefits. The minimum hourly production pay at Perdue's Delmarva poultry plants is $12 after a 90-day orientation period. Our full benefits package, which includes health care (medical, dental and vision options), paid time off and a 401(k) with matching contributions, adds $5.12. We have a profit-sharing plan that includes hourly associates, and last year we paid a bonus.

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In addition to health coverage, our Onsite Wellness Centers at our Georgetown, Milford and Accomac plants, staffed by health care providers from the community, offer associates and dependents convenient access to primary care, women's health, prenatal care, pediatric care, occupational health and specialists. Associates can visit these fully equipped medical offices during work hours and without clocking out.

All associates can choose to participate in our free Perdue Health Improvement Plan (HIP) which focuses on eliminating lifestyle risk factors, managing controllable diseases and creating an environment of health in the workplace. HIP received national recognition as C. Everett Koop Health Award winner and was honored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with a Secretary's Innovation in Prevention Award.

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Our commitment to health and wellness goes hand-in-hand with our commitment to workplace safety. We've invested tens of millions of dollars in automation in our poultry plants, including whole bird cut-up, breast deboning, thigh deboning and wing cutting, to reduce repetitive motion tasks. Our plants are among the safest manufacturing workplaces, as demonstrated by our Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) statistics. As of August 2015, Perdue's lost-time rate is about one-fourth the rate for all industries combined. Perdue's OSHA total recordable incident rate is less than half that of the Poultry Industry rate and just over half of the Goods Producing Industry rate.

We promote from within. In 2015, we promoted 269 production associates in our Delmarva plants, of which 69 percent were people of color and 34 percent were women. More than half of our manager-level jobs are filled from within our plants.

In an associate survey conducted November of 2015, 90 percent of our associates were positive about their jobs, 88 percent positive about safety and working conditions and 86 percent positive about career opportunities and development. More than 16,000 associates participated in this survey.

The allegation that associates are denied bathroom breaks is simply not believable. It stretches all credibility that USDA inspectors in a food plant would tolerate employees being forced to urinate at their workstations!

Our poultry plants are not secretive operations; we regularly welcome state and community leaders, local media, customers and prospective associates to tour our operations. We invite The Baltimore Sun's opinion page editors, along with a reporter and photographer, to visit our Delmarva processing plants. The Sun's journalists will be welcome to talk randomly with associates and see first-hand how chicken gets to our tables. We look forward to the opportunity.

Kerry Garman, Salisbury

The writer is senior vice president for human resources with Perdue Farms, Inc.

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