August, 2006

EMERGENCY PETITION SEEKS IMMEDIATE ACTION ON LETHAL POPCORN FLAVORING

Unions, Supported by Scientific Community,
Petition California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board for Emergency Temporary Standard for the Chemical

(Buena Park, California) – On August 23, 2006 the United Food and Commercial Workers’ Union, Western States Council and the California Labor Federation petitioned the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board to immediately issue an Emergency Temporary Standard for diacetyl, a deadly chemical used in flavorings. This follows action taken on July 26, 2006, when two affiliate unions of the Change to Win federation – the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters -petitioned the Department of Labor (DOL) for an Emergency Temporary Standard for diacetyl under Occupational Safety and Health Act.

Diacetyl is a hazardous chemical that has been connected to a potentially fatal lung disease that has been experienced by food industry workers across the nation. There have been dozens of cases of what has become known as “”popcorn workers lung,”" or bronchiolitis obliterans-a severe, disabling, and often-fatal lung disease experienced by factory workers who produce or handle diacetyl. Several food industry employees in California have developed devastating lung problems after being exposed to diacetyl in the workplace. There are currently no OSHA standards requiring exposures to diacetyl and flavorings be controlled.

According to the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, there are 16 – 20 plants producing flavorings in the state of California. And thousands of food processing workers are involved in the production of popcorn, pastries, frozen foods, candies and even dog food that use these chemicals.

The petition was accompanied by a letter from forty-two of the nation’s leading occupational safety scientists, including a former OSHA director, five former top officials from OSHA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Health and Human Services, who all agree that there is more than enough evidence for OSHA to regulate.

The UFCW and the California Labor Federation are petitioning the Standards Board to require employers to control airborne exposure to diacetyl and ensure that all employees who are exposed to a certain airborne level of the chemical are provided with air purifying respirators. The safety of these workers would be additionally monitored through medical surveillance and regular consultations.

The petition also demands that Cal/OSHA immediately issue a bulletin to all employers and employees potentially exposed to diacetyl outlining the dangers of the chemical. Cal/OSHA is being asked to conduct inspections and begin rule-making proceedings to establish a permanent standard that will put an end to this tragic epidemic and protect workers from exposure to all flavorings.

Kroger Workers Stand Firm Against Company

RALEIGH, N.C. — After a grueling 72 hours, contract negotiations between Kroger Company and Raleigh- Durham area grocery store workers broke off Wednesday evening. United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 204 and Kroger have been at odds since negotiations began in late July, after Kroger proposed to raid employee health care reserve funds and force workers to pay $1 million from their own paychecks to cover the difference.

During the negotiations, UFCW members made several fair and equitable proposals. Kroger, however, refused to move on key issues like health care and wages, effectively ending negotiations at that time. Kroger workers were angered that the company’s negotiators appeared unable to make decisions on any of the proposals the UFCW offered.

UFCW members are hoping to schedule negotiations for Thursday and Friday of next week.          

The UFCW is committed to the bargaining process and will continue to bargain with Kroger as long as it takes to secure a good contract for grocery workers in North Carolina. However, if Kroger is unwilling to provide workers with affordable health care and wage increases, a strike may become a reality.

UFCW Local 204 members voted to authorize a potential strike at the beginning of August. The threatened strike would affect 1,917 workers from 19 stores in the Raleigh-Durham area.

Statement by United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) on H.J. Heinz Company

Washington DC—The UFCW—which  represents 2,400 workers at six Heinz plants—fully endorses the Heinz management business plan for long-term growth in the food processing industry. The management plan offers the best opportunity for the kind of stable growth that will best benefit all stakeholders—employees, communities and shareholders.

The Peltz plan for re-orienting the direction of the company via a slate of Board of Directors candidates would put the company at risk by incurring excessive debt. The Peltz plan is short-sighted, narrowly gambling on a quick—but perhaps fleeting—spike in company value. The plan would disrupt key customer relationships, sell off operations, eliminate jobs, and close plants with no clear, long-term purpose of building a strong and growing company presence in the industry.

The UFCW agrees with the financial analysts who have concluded that the Peltz plan would place too much financial risk on the company without any real business plan for long-term sustainability.

The wisest and best choice for all stakeholders would be a rejection of the Peltz slate of directors at the company’s annual shareholder meeting next week in Pittsburgh. UFCW international Vice President Mark Lauritsen who heads the UFCW Manufacturing, Packing, and Food Processing Division, will attend the meeting where he will urge shareholders to cast a positive vote for the management plan that puts stability and growth over quick fix schemes.