Pig brains and politicians

An Austin man has sued Hormel over exposure to pig brains, reports the Strib. According to Dale Kinney’s legal filings, Hormel’s “process of using compressed air to harvest pig brains has led to a medical investigation involving the Mayo clinic, the Minnesota Department of Health, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).”

The Washington Post described the illness and its cause last year:

The ailment is characterized by sensations of burning, numbness and weakness in the arms and legs. For most, this is unpleasant but not disabling. For a few, however, the ailment has made walking difficult and work impossible. The symptoms have slowly lessened in severity, but in none of the sufferers has it disappeared completely.

While the illness is similar to some known conditions, it does not match any exactly. Nor is the leading theory of its cause something medical researchers have studied. That is because the illness appears to be caused by inhaling microscopic flecks of pig brain. …

[Investigators’] working hypothesis is that the harvesting technique — known as “blowing brains” on the floor — produces aerosols of brain matter. Once inhaled, the material prompts the immune system to produce antibodies that attack the pig brain compounds, but apparently also attack the body’s own nerve tissue because it is so similar.

Hormel says this plaintiff wasn’t an employee. Maybe he’ll have better luck than actual employees. As MPR previously reported, some immigrant workers have been denied workers’ compensation despite being diagnosed with an auto-immune disease that attacks the neurological system. The worker interviewed by MPR couldn’t get workers’ comp to even pay for the meds prescribed for her condition. And, yes, workers are entitled to workers’ compensation for injuries suffered on the job, regardless of whether they are citizens, permanent residents, or undocumented workers.

Of course, if you listen to Minnesota Employment Commissioner Steve Sviggum, no undocumented workers should get compensation for lost work time or for permanent injuries suffered in the course of their work. He wants to change workers’ compensation insurance laws to deny them coverage of anything but medical bills. Lose a hand? Out of luck. Permanent neurological damage? Go back to Mexico.

Rep. Carlos Mariani responded to Sviggum’s outrageous proposal:

If one follows this thinking to its logical conclusion, denying work comp to undocumented would encourage employers to hire undocumented workers because doing so would shield them from the expense incurred for making the worker whole when injured on the job. It would also reward the employer for having unsafe work conditions since they would not incur the cost that follows from those conditions. The savings in expenses: from full work comp costs, and from the expense of maintaining a safe work place could be substantive and could alter the societal balance that exists between protecting workers while running efficient industries. What is posed as an issue that only affects undocumented workers becomes a sector-altering dynamic that undermines organized labor, not to mention that it creates two competing social value systems operating in our economy. … It seems to me that if you want to end the employment of undocumented workers in our society, then making it easier for employers to not bear the work comp costs of injured workers achieves the opposite.

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