Union representing Worthington meat plant workers suing to stop new USDA rule

Suit says removal of limit on line speeds could lead to more injuries, unsafe meat.


By Kristen Leigh Painter, Star Tribune (MN)

October 7, 2019


A food-workers' union on Monday sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture, seeking to block the Trump administration's rule change that removes maximum line speeds in hog slaughterhouses.


The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) filed the federal lawsuit in the District of Minnesota, alleging that the new rule puts workers at greater risk of serious injury and could lead to more unsafe pork.


The USDA announced its final rule last month, referred to as modernization of swine-slaughter inspections. The new rule privatizes part of the meat-inspection process, allowing the company's employees to perform some of the food-safety tests.


This key change received much of the publicity, but slaughterhouse workers are more concerned that the rule also allows businesses to run their pork lines where hogs are eviscerated and harvested for meat as fast as they deem fit.


UFCW Local 663, based in Brooklyn Center, was one of three union locals to file the lawsuit. Local 663 represents more than 13,000 members across Minnesota and Iowa, including nearly 2,000 workers at the large JBS USA hog slaughterhouse in Worthington, Minn.


Workers at the Worthington plant have been vocal in their opposition to removing line-speed limits, citing the already fast-pace environment they work in.


"We urged the USDA to consider how unsafe this rule would make our workplaces, but they refused," UFCW Local 663 President Matt Utecht said Monday in a news release. "We had no choice but to go to court to stop a rule that will endanger the health and livelihoods of thousands of UFCW members."


Joining Local 663 in the lawsuit are UFCW Local 440, which represents workers in Iowa, and Local 2, which represents workers in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.


A spokesperson for the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.


The pork industry has supported the rule change...


1,106 hogs per hour


According to the lawsuit, a worker in Worthington recently suffered a laceration severe enough to require amputation. The lawsuit did not give more detail on the injury...