In this file:
· Industry, Unions Tussle Over Meat Line Speeds
· Union sues to end waivers that allow faster line speeds at Arkansas poultry plants
· Meatpackers Panned For Lack Of Transparency During Pandemic
· Lawmakers reject effort to address packing plant safety concerns
Industry, Unions Tussle Over Meat Line Speeds
By Pan Demetrakakes, Food Processing
Jul 30, 2020
As the meat and poultry industry struggles to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, processing line speeds are increasingly becoming a point of contention.
Unions representing meat-plant workers, and their allies in Congress, are pressing through legislation and litigation to roll back recent increases in permitted line speeds. The industry is pushing back, arguing that high line speeds are needed to meet the nation’s demand during the crisis.
At issue are USDA regulations that allow processors to run lines faster, either normally or as a response to the pandemic. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union filed a federal lawsuit July 28 to overturn a USDA waiver allowing faster speeds in poultry plants during the crisis.
“As COVID-19 continues to infect thousands of meatpacking workers, it is stunning that USDA is further endangering these workers by allowing poultry companies to increase line speeds to dangerous new levels that increase the risk of injury and make social distancing next to impossible,” union president Marc Perrone said in a statement.
In addition, legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate that would suspend all current USDA waivers relating to line speeds. A press release from U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who introduced the Senate legislation, claims that USDA has issued almost 20 waivers related to line speeds since the pandemic took hold. In addition, the legislation targets a rule change, instituted last fall, that removes limits on hog processing line speeds as long as adequate microbial monitoring is in place.
The industry is insisting that faster line speeds are needed to meet the demand for fresh meat among consumers homebound by the pandemic. In a 14-page letter to Booker and to U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kenneth Sullivan, CEO of Smithfield Foods, outlined...
Union sues to end waivers that allow faster line speeds at Arkansas poultry plants
by Kim Souza, Talk Business & Politics
Jul 30, 2020
Tyson Foods and Wayne Farms were named in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday (July 28) in the District of Columbia by the United Food Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) against the U.S. Department of Agriculture over waivers the government gives poultry companies to increase line speeds within their processing facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
UFCW and five of its local unions, including Local No. 2008 headquartered in Little Rock, are plaintiffs in the suit. Local 2008 represents poultry workers on the processing line in the Wayne Farms plant in Danville, Ark., and in Tyson Foods’ plants in Dardanelle and Noel, Mo. (Link here for a PDF of the filing.) UFCW represents 1.3 million workers, including more than 3,800 Arkansas workers in meatpacking and other essential businesses.
The suit claims in April that Tyson Foods plants in Danville and Noel received waivers from the USDA that allow each plant to increase line speeds from 140 birds per minute to 175 birds per minute.
“The 15 total waivers given to poultry processing plants do not protect our food supply, but they create a greater risk of worker injury, including increased risk of catching and spreading the virus as workers are forced to crowd together to keep pace with faster processing speeds,” UFCW noted in the release.
Tyson Foods did not respond to a request for comment, but the company has previously said worker safety is the company’s top priority.
The plaintiffs argue that the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) waiver program should be set aside and 10 active waivers should be voided. The lawsuit alleges USDA failed to follow required procedures and ignored the agency’s own rules and policies when it adopted the waiver program.
“America’s poultry workers have been on the frontlines of this pandemic since day one, putting themselves in harm’s way to make sure our families have the food we need during this crisis,” said UFCW International President Marc Perrone. “As COVID-19 continues to infect thousands of meatpacking workers, it is stunning that USDA is further endangering these workers by allowing poultry companies to increase line speeds to dangerous new levels that increase the risk of injury and make social distancing next to impossible. This lawsuit will help to finally stop this dangerous corporate giveaway from the USDA. Now more than ever, we must put the safety of frontline workers and our country’s food supply first.”
Poultry companies like Tyson Foods and Wayne Foods rely on USDA oversight within their operations. Tyson has said it went above and beyond the required protocol to keep its workers safe and still remain open to meet consumer demand. Meat processing plants also fall under an executive order by President Donald Trump in late April that requires the plants to remain open. The Defense Protection Act also gives the companies some protection against lawsuits if they follow USDA operating guidelines...
Meatpackers Panned For Lack Of Transparency During Pandemic
By Madelyn Beck, Wyoming Public Media
Jul 29, 2020
Meatpacking plants across the Mountain West and the country are under intense scrutiny as they continue to face COVID-19 outbreaks.
More than 37,000 meatpacking employees have been infected by COVID-19 and more than 160 have died, according to the Food and Environment Reporting Network. But that data primarily comes from local news reports "with additional information gathered from state health authorities and, on occasion, from companies with outbreaks."
Major meatpackers like Tyson Foods, JBS, Cargill and Smithfield Foods rarely reveal that data.
"Yeah, it's largely a blackbox unfortunately," said Nicole Civita, an instructor and sustainable food systems specialization lead at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Civita blames major consolidation and growing power within the companies for why they have to report so little about their workforce or even environmental impacts.
The meatpackers didn't provide information to Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker either, as they investigated whether the companies have used the pandemic as cover to exploit workers for profit and/or fix prices.
Last week, Warren and Booker said the companies' actions illustrate the need for "enforceable and mandatory health and safety protections for essential workers, real investigation and enforcement by OSHA, and long-term reform of our food system."
Meatpacking workers have sued the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, claiming the agency's inaction left them in danger.
Meanwhile, both the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are investigating whether the same companies colluded to artificially boost beef prices as COVID-19 disrupted the market, potentially harming both consumers and ranchers.
Nicole Huberfeld, a professor of health law, ethics and human rights at Boston University, said the pandemic has put us in uncharted waters when it comes to privacy and companies: how much information should we require for private institutions to report during a public health crisis?
"It's one thing for a public health agency to disseminate information because that's its responsibility," Huberfeld said. "It's another thing to look at corporations and say, 'Well, you have a responsibility to dissemination information.' They don't."
Huberfeld argues that meatpacking and other food processing plants must be more accountable to their employees and their health, though.
"Seems to me that these are national corporations that should be dealt with on the national level, which means Congress needs to act to ensure that they understand what their duties are to their employees," she said...
more, including links, audio [1:07 min.]
Lawmakers reject effort to address packing plant safety concerns
'We just told meatpacking plant workers they are less important'
Andrew Ozaki, KETV Omaha (NE)
Jul 29, 2020
Nebraska lawmakers shot down an effort to add protections for meatpacking workers.
Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas came two votes short of the 30 needed to suspend the rules and introduce a new bill so late in the session.
"We just told meatpacking plant workers they are less important now," Vargas said.
The rejection came just a day after workers, church organizations and community advocates rallied at the Capitol and called for action.
They make up 20% of all the positive cases in the state and 21 plant workers have died.
Many of the employees are minorities and immigrants.
The state's Hispanic population accounts for 60% of the people who have tested positive.
Vargas, whose father died from COVID-19 in April, said the issue is personal.
"In the state, this virus is disproportionately affecting people of color, just like my dad," Vargas said.
Other senators argued not much could be done with only nine days left.
It sets a bad precedent to suspend rules.
State Sen. Mike Groene said the industry has been working with state and federal agencies.
"This issue has already been addressed and we did it through the system," Groene said.
The defeat adds to frustration for some senators like Justin Wayne.
The Omaha senator supported efforts to address pandemic relief such as eviction moratoriums, have control over some CARES Act funding and provide intercity economic relief. All of those efforts have also been shut down.
"At some point, you have to draw a line in the sand and say, 'This is it.' And for me, this session is over with," Wayne said.
Vargas said he has not given up. He wants to find a way to at least hold a public hearing on the matter. He said that will give a voice to workers and the industry...