In this file:
· Editorial: Vilsack delivers for workers
· In win for UFCW workers, USDA dumps Trump pork line speedups
Editorial: Vilsack delivers for workers
Art Cullen, Opinion, The Storm Lake Times (IA)
June 02, 2021
Score one for the workers, finally: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stood fast and refused last week to defend increased line speeds in poultry and pork plants in the face of tremendous industry pressure. The National Pork Producers, among others, aggressively lobbied USDA to appeal a federal judge’s ruling from Minnesota that upheld a new swine inspection system but excised a rule allowing faster line speeds. The United Food and Commercial Workers argued in court that higher speeds are unsafe.
A few plants had been allowed under the rules, developed since the days of the Clinton Administration, to increase line speeds from 1,100 hogs per hour to 1,400 (Storm Lake not among them, yet). A worker from the Denison Smithfield plant testified that he hooked himself while snaring a carcass whizzing by. Studies also show that plants with higher line speeds also had far higher rates of Covid infection.
The meat industry complained that rules long in development had been thrown aside capriciously. It’s true that the Clinton Administration of Arkansas, friend of Don Tyson, treated Big Meat with kid gloves. Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy had to quit because of his coziness with Tyson. Subsequent administrations steadily relaxed inspection and enforcement. Anti-trust was viewed as passé. Unions have been slowly suffocated. The workforce is immigrant and afraid. The speed just keeps hastening. Fewer meat inspectors are called for. It has been a trend since the Reagan era, really, to allow the industry to regulate itself. That’s when the union was busted here...
... If line speeds hold back production among Big Pork, that production will be sought from smaller facilities (perhaps fed by independent producers, if they could get a bid). We saw that happen during the pandemic. Vilsack is interested in promoting a more diverse production system for the sake of resiliency...
In win for UFCW workers, USDA dumps Trump pork line speedups
By Mark Gruenberg, People's World
June 2, 2021
People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States.
WASHINGTON —In a win for pork plant workers and their union, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Biden administration’s Agriculture Department threw in the towel on a Trump USDA plan for no speed limits on production lines in U.S. pork processing plants.
USDA announced May 28 it would not appeal U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen’s March 31 ruling terming Trump’s unlimited line speeds scheme illegal. That’s because, she said, his USDA broke federal law and was “arbitrary and capricious” when it ignored both worker and consumer safety in abolishing the speed limits.
Ericksen gave USDA 90 days to come up with a rule and do so correctly by accounting for the cost to workers and not just pork producers’ calculations that faster line speeds would add $82.5 million to company coffers every year.
“With USDA’s statement, the Biden administration is reaffirming its commitment to worker safety,” union President Marc Perrone said after USDA’s announcement. UFCW and its locals in Minnesota, Iowa, and Kansas had sued USDA in the first place in Ericksen’s court.
Trump’s USDA listened to the corporate chieftains of the pork industry and set up the pilot project. Processing plants in Hatfield, Pa., Coldwater, Mich., Fremont, Neb., Austin, Minn., and Guymon, Okla., had no speed limits at all. In practice, they reached 1,450 hogs hourly.
Had Trump’s order stood, USDA would have abolished the speed limits in all pork plants. The practical impact of USDA’s decision is that by the end of June, the five plants will have to cut back to 1,106 hogs per hour.
“As the union for our nation’s frontline pork plant workers, UFCW applauds the USDA’s decision to respect the district court’s ruling. The court recognized USDA must consider worker safety, and it is well known dangerous production speeds increase the risks of injury to workers,” Perrone said.
The hazards increased when the coronavirus pandemic hit, the union said. That’s because a Trump edict proclaimed pork processing workers “essential” and ordered them to toil regardless of protections against the spread of the virus on the job. Pork plants became notorious for not protecting their workers or the surrounding communities.
“UFCW is calling on CEOs across the pork industry to work with the USDA to slow their line speeds. The safety of America’s frontline food workers must never again take a backseat to corporate profits,” Perrone concluded. The industry responded, through its lobby, by vowing to take the USDA to court to try to regain the unlimited line speeds.
Ericksen let stand one other part of Trump’s plan: Letting pork plants train supervisors to inspect hog carcasses for contamination, replacing USDA food inspectors. That raised an obvious conflict of interest. USDA did so at chicken processing plants during the Obama administration. That forced the inspectors’ union, the Government Employees, to publicize the danger by an informational picket line in front of the USDA headquarters in D.C. Then, as now, former Democratic Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack was USDA secretary.