January, 2008

UFCW AND CONSUMER ADVOCATES TO VOICE CONCERNS AT USDA

Washington, D.C. – The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) will join consumer advocates at public meetings on February 5-6 to oppose the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (USDA FSIS) proposal to water down workplace safety and food inspection regulations at the nation’s poultry slaughter establishments. The proposal, entitled “”Public Health-Based Slaughter Inspection System”" (PHBSIS), will remove maximum line speed regulations and further subject poultry workers to dangerous workplace conditions. The proposed system also increases the risk of food-borne illnesses by weakening the on-line poultry inspection process.

The dangerous work conditions faced by workers in the poultry industry have been documented by academics, the media and the U.S. Government Accountability Office, and line speeds have been linked to musculoskeletal disorders and debilitating injuries—including lacerations and amputations. Poultry workers often face physically demanding, repetitive work, during which they stand for long periods of time in production lines that move very quickly while wielding knives or other cutting instruments. They often work in extreme temperatures and make up to 40,000 repetitive cutting motions per shift. Worker safety will play no role under the PHBSIS proposal, and the new system will allow poultry slaughter establishments to run their lines with no maximum line speed—guaranteeing a rise in workplace injuries.

Line speeds have also been linked to food contamination, and the new proposal may put consumers at risk of food-borne illnesses by removing on-line FSIS inspectors who are trained to inspect bird carcasses for contaminated material—including fecal matter. Under the new system, poultry slaughter establishments will be allowed to monitor the poultry carcass inspection process themselves.

“”Over 100 years ago, Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle in an effort to shed light on the unhealthy and dangerous working conditions in meat packing plants, and it is amazing that the poultry industry would be allowed to turn back the clock and dismantle our last line of defense against workp lace injuries and food-borne illnesses,”" said Mark Lauritsen, UFCW International Vice President and Director of the Food Processing, Packing and Manufacturing Division. “”We urge members of Congress to join the UFCW in opposing this misguided proposal in order to protect the health and safety of our workers and families.”"

For more than 100 years, the UFCW has been fighting to improve the working conditions of food workers and the safety of our food, and currently represents more than 250,000 workers in the packing and processing industries. In addition to protecting the rights of food workers, the UFCW is also a founding member of the Safe Food Coalition which consists of consumer groups, groups representing victims of food-borne illnesses, and watchdog groups that are dedicated to reducing the incidence of food-borne illnesses in the United States.

The USDA FSIS meetings will take place on February 5-6 at 8:45 a.m. at the Key Bridge Marriott at 1401 Lee Highway in Arlington, Va.

STATE OF THE UNION IGNORES THE REAL NEEDS OF AMERICA

Washington, D.C. – President Bush’s last State of the Union address yesterday failed to produce long-term solutions to the challenges facing America’s workers as signals of an economic downturn continue to persist. In spite of his lofty rhetoric, the president was unable to gloss over his dismal seven-year legacy of failed economic policies that have favored the wealthy few, while workers and their families continue to struggle with rising heath care costs, the collapse of the housing market, stagnant wages, crumbling job security and the decline of workers’ rights. The president’s address further underlined the irrefutable fact that this administration’s fiscal folly will affect the next generation of Americans who may never realize the American Dream.

President Bush’s seven-year record of fiscal incompetence and mismanagement has had a devastating affect on American workers and their families. Over the course of his administration, America’s debt has increased to over $9 trillion and consumer confidence has plummeted. The number of uninsured Americans, including children, has increased to 47 million, and the cost of health care has risen three times faster than inflation and wages. In addition, gas prices have climbed to over $3 a gallon, state college tuition costs have increased by 40 percent and the share of mortgages entering foreclosure is at the highest level on record since 1979.

This election year, politicians of both parties are highlighting the American Dream as an attainable goal for those who are willing to work hard and play by the rules. It is our hope that the next president combines this rhetoric with real policies and initiatives that will put the needs of all Americans above corporate interests.

WHAT

(Washington, DC) – The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) is deeply concerned that the state of Indiana is not forthcoming with accurate information about the location of the worksite in which workers have been diagnosed with a rare neurological illness.

According to local news reports, the Indiana Department of Health is refusing to identify the name or location of the facility citing privacy concerns.  This is in stark contrast to the actions of state health officials, UFCW representatives and company officials in Minnesota where the work-related disease was first discovered.

It appears that only three meatpacking plants in the United States use an air-compression system to harvest brains from pork — QPP in Austin, Minnesota, Hormel in Fremont, Nebraska and Indiana Packers in Delphi, Indiana.   Investigators from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have identified Indiana Packers as the site of the new cases of yet unnamed the inflammatory neurological condition.

UFCW Local 700 President Joe Chorpenning said, “One can assume that Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and his state government doesn’t care about regular working people that would hide information that might protect workers from neurological illness.”"

When workers became stricken with the mysterious neurological illness in Austin, QPP immediately contacted the UFCW about working together to identify any risks to workers in their plant.  The UFCW knows that QPP and Hormel stopped that production line immediately upon discovery of the illness.

No cases have been found in Nebraska.  In Minnesota, NIOSH has determined there are 12 confirmed cases among the workforce at QPP.