STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It is a Wednesday morning, which is when we focus on the workplace. And today we'll report on rising job prospects for chaplains. More American companies have been hiring ministers to serve as chaplains in the workplace. Skeptics raise concerns here about religious coercion at work. But supporters say chaplains help to reduce turnover and high-stress jobs. Iowa Public Radio's Joyce Russell reports.
JOYCE RUSSELL: It's orientation day for new workers at the Tyson Pork Processing Plant in Perry, Iowa. Some 7,000 hogs are slaughtered here each day. Plant's chaplain Louis Holger(ph) has left his traditional clerical garb at home. Today he's wearing the hairnet and white coat of the production line.
Mr. LOUIS HOLGER (Chaplain at Plant): I go by Lou. I happen to be a Lutheran minister, but we minister to people of all faiths or no faith.
RUSSELL: Chaplain Holger is on the frontlines of the faith-friendly workplace. First, employers began accommodating worksite prayer groups or scheduling work around religious holidays. Now many are embracing chaplains who minister to employees or their families.
Mr. HOLGER: Tell me how your day's going, Gordy(ph).
Mr. GORDY (Plant Worker): Not too bad today. A fairly light day for my department, which is unusual for this late in the week.
Mr. HOLGER: Well, what's going on at home these days?
RUSSELL: The chaplain chats with workers in the company cafeteria. But he doesn't wait for them to come to him.
Mr. HOLGER: Each week I try to go through the production areas, through load-out, freezer, rendering, so that the employees can see that I am available to them.
RUSSELL: That way when workers need counseling or a family crisis erupts, they know where to go for help. As a result, Chaplain Holger has accompanied workers and their families to hospitals and hospices, and even performed a wedding. Employee Rhonda Beeler(ph) works on the cut floor where carcasses are sliced into large slabs of meat.
Ms. RHONDA BEELER (Plant Worker): I was very surprised when they introduced the chaplains to us in our meeting. This is a pork processing plant. You don't expect to see chaplains in here, in a workplace like this.
RUSSELL: But Beeler says the chaplain was very helpful when she became estranged from her grandson. At other companies, from Coca-Cola bottling to car dealerships, managers say they're convinced chaplains pay for themselves for lower turnover. One firm even says it may drop its employee assistance program because its chaplain is more popular.
But the program has its critics. Yale Divinity School Professor David Miller, author of “God at Work,” says some might think the employee should go to church instead of seeing a chaplain at work.
Professor DAVID MILLER (Yale Divinity School; Author, “God at Work”): The average denomination might even be a bit hostile to it as they see, quote-unquote, ”real ministry” as meaning Sunday pulpit preaching and not Monday wandering around an office or a factory floor.
RUSSELL: Miller says workplace chaplains must walk a neutral path between labor and management. One Tyson chaplain was fired when he ignored management in favor of employees. Others have gotten into trouble when they began proselytizing. But Allan Tyson(ph) at company headquarters in Springdale, Arkansas, says they've had zero complaints about that.
Mr. ALLAN TYSON (Tyson): It has to do with both how we train our chaplains as they start up and how they conduct themselves. But, no, we have not had any complaints about chaplains forcing faith or proselytizing people.
RUSSELL: Meanwhile at least one company, a chain of auto service stores in the southeast, is promoting its chaplain program when it recruits employees. The next step may be adopting professional standards for workplace chaplains as more ministers show up at work.
For NPR News, I'm Joyce Russell in Ames, Iowa.