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Workplace Massacre in Alabama: Did Endless Downsizing and Slashed Benefits Cause the Rampage?

If you keep squeezing workers to fatten filthy-rich executives' already-obscene bonuses, there can be very violent consequences.

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The difference between a common maniac's murder spree and crimes that result from intolerable conditions and injustices is that the maniac's killings take place in a kind of vacuum, resulting in shock but not widespread sympathy and an unstoppable ongoing movement. In that sense, the two school shootings in Finland and the two in Germany don't seem to be anything like what we have here.

Which brings me back to McLendon. Last week, Pilgrim's Pride suspended his mother, 52-year-old Lisa McLendon, from her job. Pilgrim's Pride won't say exactly why they suspended her from her night shift, except to darkly note it was a "very serious matter." So serious, in fact, that they told her she could come back to work in a week if she "resolved" the matter to their satisfaction.

So again, what was she suspended for? This is where the corporate sadism gets surreal: According to one report, she was suspended for overstating her work hours on her time card. In other words, given her lawsuit (now no longer such a threat to Pilgrim's while it is "restructuring" under American courts), she very likely decided she couldn't wait for the courts anymore and decided to clock in her time spent putting on and taking off the required protective gear.

Suspending her in such a case would be a classic example of illegal corporate retribution against a worker with a labor dispute -- but what can a small-town Alabama hick do, with so little money and only so much resources, against a many-headed corporate beast like Pilgrim's Pride? The fact that Michael McLendon had the names of so many lawyers written down on lists in a spiral notebook shows that he tried going the legal route, but I mean, really, who's fooling whom? You think a small-town Alabama chicken-plucker has a chance in hell of fighting these oligarchs in the courts?

The lead attorney in the class-action suit against Pilgrim's Pride explained the dilemma this way:

"What has been difficult for these workers, both because of the raids and that there's been a lot of press about layoffs at Pilgrim's Pride, a lot of workers are afraid of retaliation for coming forward, afraid of losing their jobs," [Jenny Yang] said. "We are trying to make sure people are aware federal laws protect them against retaliation for participating in the case."

But anyone who understands company-labor relations since Reagan knows that companies routinely flout these laws and retaliate at will, suffering at worst a minor slap on the wrist, usually getting away with it completely.

Now that the company is under bankruptcy protection, with the same Pilgrims running the show, what's the worst that would happen for punishing a lowly worker who made a claim? Another lawsuit? Yeah, right.

So now we can start looking at the "motive" that Alabama investigators first broke, then hushed up: Last week, Pilgrim's Pride suspended McLendon's 52-year-old mother from her grim night-shift job as retribution for her demands to be paid in full for her work. Almost the same time that his mother was suspended from Pilgrim's Pride, McLendon abruptly quit his job at Kelley Foods, a meat-processing company a few towns over. Add to this another corporate attack on the locals: In mid-February, Reliance Metal Products, the place where McLendon worked until 2003 and where he ended his killing spree, quietly started laying off its workers and pushing the lucky few who still had jobs into working longer hours.

You can glean some of the anger and frustration in unofficial forums, but there's little information in the official realm: According to a report dated Feb. 18 from a local TV station, WTVY:

 
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