They’re called “pushers,” and while they have nothing to do with illegal drugs, you don’t want to be one.

If you are and you work at a CAFO, chances are your job is to wake a 1,000-pound cow from a sound sleep and move her from one crowded place to another. Do it 12 hours a day, every day for two weeks with a just single weekday off, and you can earn all of seven dollars an hour to start.

Not a great employment opportunity under any circumstances, and it’s much worse when

the sleep-deprived cows have other plans. They should be getting eight hours of sleep a day, but they frequently get as little as six and sometimes four.

“You have to move them from the place where they are sleeping to the place where they’re going to be milked. These cows are overstressed, pissed off, tired, sick or lame. You have to shout. You have to kick some cows, because they don’t want to get up and sometimes can’t. You do this by yourself at two in the morning, and you have to push them into a really tight space where they wait hours to be milked.”

The preceding are the words of a frequent eyewitness who has visited CAFOs in more than a dozen states. We’ll call him Dr. V. He’s a veterinarian and a certified top level dairy cow expert who works for the US Department of Agriculture at a highly regarded national university. He prefers to remain anonymous, because his highly regarded university has some highly sensitive fiscal connections to factory farms. But he’s seen too much to stay silent.

While he can’t speak to conditions at all CAFOs, he can share his observations from places where he worked and visited. These are his personal experiences.

“The reason I’m talking to you is because it’s unfair for people, unfair for animals, unfair for the state, unfair for the environment and unfair for the world,” he said. “I can’t see anything good about them. Anything, anything, anything, anything.”

Passionate words, and Dr.V is just getting warmed up. When the talk turns to conditions at factory farms, he provides the kind of inside information that can only come from working at one. Which he did as a manager for three and a half years, and he’s clearly not impressed when he hears owners promote CAFOs as local job creators.

“What kind of jobs are you going to create with a CAFO?” he said. “You’re going to need low level workers who need to be on the farm 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. They need to be there because this is a factory.”

Dr. V estimates that at least 80 per cent of those low level workers are illegal aliens who pay rent for meager housing hundreds of miles from their families.

“Normally these farms buy houses around the farms and put, I would say, four people to a room,” he said. “Not per house, per room. You don’t want to go into those houses. They’re disgusting. If you don’t have that kind of housing you buy an old t

railer, move it onto the land and put workers there. And they don’t take care of the houses, so they’re going to decrease the value of (other) houses around the farm.

“A decent salary would be seven dollars an hour for starting, and it might increase 20 cents every six months if you’re lucky. The people need to work all day, through the weekends, holidays and at night. You work from Monday to Friday of the next week. You get one day off every two weeks. If you complain, you’re told you can find another job.

“You work a 12-hour shift, normally from 4 or 5 a.m. to 4 or 5 p.m. with a half hour or one hour for lunch. If you sleep eight hours a night that leaves you four hours to eat breakfast and dinner, take care of business, go shopping, maybe watch some TV or call your family.”

No overtime, says Dr. V. No pensions, no vacations and certainly no medical insurance.

“If you get sick, you’re on your own,” he said. “You don’t have insurance. If you have an accident, you’re on your own. The worst part is you’re not going to make money while you’re sick. Sometimes you won’t have a job when you come back.

“The reason they hire these people is they’re the only ones that are going to work under those conditions. They (also) need someone who can speak the language, so they hire somebody for management, or they hire translators. The second level management people will make more money, but we’re not talking a ton of money. We’re talking about $25,000 to $30,000 per year.”

Dr. V himself made $28 thousand as a manger, but he was lucky. He could see the light at the end of the tunnel. He was able to get a job because he was a veterinarian, and he would be around only long enough to earn his green card. That process took a little longer than the typical stay of low level workers.

“They want to stay as long as they can, because it’s a better salary than they’re getting from their home countries,” he said. “If you’re illegal and you get out of the country, it’s going to be difficult to get back. On average, I’d say they stay for three years. They send money back home, and then they quit working because they are homesick. They want to see their kids. They want to stay with their wife.”

They want what any worker would want. What they get at a CAFO is a vastly different thing . More from Dr. V next time.