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July 29, 2008

UFCW Calls on OSHA to Issue a Combustible Dust Standard

Washington, D.C. –  OSHA’s proposed fines of $8.7 million for violations at the Imperial Sugar plant near Savannah, Georgia, where an explosion killed 13 workers in February, and at another plant in Gramercy, Louisiana, magnify the gaps in current OSHA enforcement standards with regard to combustible dust, including a reliance on “general duty” citations and a patchwork of other standards which are limited in scope and do not address such critical considerations as design, maintenance, hazard review and explosion protection.  This action also underscores OSHA’s reluctance to follow the recommendations of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) that may have prevented the tragedy in Georgia and other combustible dust explosions.

The fines also expose OSHA’s inability to monitor the actions of big businesses such as Imperial Sugar.  The explosion in Georgia took place on February 7; however, OSHA inspectors found that the company had not taken immediate steps to mitigate another potential disaster when they inspected the plant in Louisiana a month later.

Earlier this year, the UFCW and the Teamsters called on OSHA to issue an emergency standard on combustible dust, and filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Labor demanding that OSHA follow the 2006 recommendations of the CSB, an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents.

In 2006, the CSB recommended that OSHA issue a rule that would have reduced the possibility of combustible dust explosions.  That year, the CSB conducted a major study of combustible dust hazards, and noted that a quarter of the explosions that occureed between 1980 and 2005 that were identified, occurred at food industry facilities, including sugar refineries.  In only one or two investigations were these incidents caused by mechanical mysteries that were either unforeseen or unpredicted.

Standards and codes have existed for years for OSHA to build upon and eliminate this type of explosion.  In 1987, OSHA issued the Grain Handling Facilities Standard as the result of grain dust explosions in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  This standard has effectively reduced the number and severity of combustible grain dust explosions in the grain handling industry, but stopped short of regulating combustible dust in industries outside of the grain industry.

The UFCW applauds the U.S. House of Representatives for passing legislation to force OSHA to set a combustible dust standard, and urges President Bush to reconsider his veto threat.  OSHA must act now and follow the recommendations of the CSB before more workers are killed or horribly injured.

July 28, 2008

UFCW Calls on OSHA to Issue a Combustile Dust Standard

Washington, D.C. –  OSHA’s proposed fines of $8.7 million for violations at the Imperial Sugar plant near Savannah, Georgia, where an explosion killed 13 workers in February, and at another plant in Gramercy, Louisiana, magnify the gaps in current OSHA enforcement standards with regard to combustible dust, including a reliance on “general duty” citations and a patchwork of other standards which are limited in scope and do not address such critical considerations as design, maintenance, hazard review and explosion protection.  This action also underscores OSHA’s reluctance to follow the recommendations of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) that may have prevented the tragedy in Georgia and other combustible dust explosions.

The fines also expose OSHA’s inability to monitor the actions of big businesses such as Imperial Sugar.  The explosion in Georgia took place on February 7; however, OSHA inspectors found that the company had not taken immediate steps to mitigate another potential disaster when they inspected the plant in Louisiana a month later.

Earlier this year, the UFCW and the Teamsters called on OSHA to issue an emergency standard on combustible dust, and filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Labor demanding that OSHA follow the 2006 recommendations of the CSB, an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents.

In 2006, the CSB recommended that OSHA issue a rule that would have reduced the possibility of combustible dust explosions.  That year, the CSB conducted a major study of combustible dust hazards, and noted that a quarter of the explosions that occureed between 1980 and 2005 that were identified, occurred at food industry facilities, including sugar refineries.  In only one or two investigations were these incidents caused by mechanical mysteries that were either unforeseen or unpredicted.

Standards and codes have existed for years for OSHA to build upon and eliminate this type of explosion.  In 1987, OSHA issued the Grain Handling Facilities Standard as the result of grain dust explosions in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  This standard has effectively reduced the number and severity of combustible grain dust explosions in the grain handling industry, but stopped short of regulating combustible dust in industries outside of the grain industry.

The UFCW applauds the U.S. House of Representatives for passing legislation to force OSHA to set a combustible dust standard, and urges President Bush to reconsider his veto threat.  OSHA must act now and follow the recommendations of the CSB before more workers are killed or horribly injured.

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The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) represents more than 1.3 million workers, primarily in the retail and meatpacking, food processing and poultry industries. The UFCW protects the rights of workers and strengthens America’s middle class by fighting for health care reform, immigration reform, living wages, retirement security, safe working conditions and the right to unionize so that working men and women and their families can realize the American Dream. For more information about the UFCW’s effort to protect workers’ rights and strengthen America’s middle class, visit www.ufcw.org.

July 21, 2008

UFCW President Announces Aggressive New Health Care Mobilization Project

Washington, D.C. – The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) today pledged to aggressively mobilize its 1.3 million members in support of the newly-formed Health Care for America Now, an unprecedented coalition of organizations across the political spectrum that have come together to call for affordable, quality health care for all Americans.

UFCW International President Joe Hansen announced at the official launch of the historic campaign in Washington, D.C., that the UFCW would join the coalition of allied labor unions, medical associations, small businesses and community groups that have united in response to America’s health care crisis.

“While there may be gridlock in Washington, there is consensus in America,” said Hansen. “The American people want solutions–not sound bites. We need health care for America now.”

The event was part of series of Health Care for American Now launch activities taking place in 52 Cities across the U.S. today, including in 37 state capitals.

UFCW members are at the forefront of the fight for better health care. It is an issue that they strongly advocate for every time they sit down at the bargaining table–and just like most Americans, they believe that working people shouldn’t have to shoulder the burden of health care reform alone.

From 2003 to 2006, President Hansen served as an active member of the congressionally mandated Citizens’ Health Care Working Group. For nearly two years, the group held an unprecedented nationwide dialogue with the American people on the health care system before reporting its findings to the President and Congress.

The report documents a remarkable consensus from the American people on health care reform. Americans want affordable, quality health care coverage for all—and they want it now.

The UFCW has heard America’s call for change and will continue the fight as a proud member of the Health Care for America Now coalition. United, the coalition members will make sure the voices of average Americans are not drowned out in Washington by that of the insurance industry and big business.

July 19, 2008

CASE FARMS POULTRY WORKERS FORCED TO WITHHOLD THEIR LABOR

(Winesburg, Ohio) More than one hundred frustrated poultry workers walked off the job at Case Farms poultry plant yesterday in a fight for living wages and respect on the job. Over a year ago these same workers chose United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 880 to be their voice on the job and to bargain a fair and living wage for them.
After months of hard bargaining and despite the best efforts of a Federal Mediator, Case Farms refused to budge from its tiny economic offer that would pay them less than their non-union counterparts in North Carolina who do the same work.  Faced with this unreasonable and unfair position, the workers voted overwhelmingly (294-12) to reject the offer and to withhold their labor.
Despite this clear message, the company continued to stonewall in negotiations. A privately owned company, Case Farms has decided to make non-union status and profits for owner more important than paying a fair and living wage to its Winesburg workers. After the company committed numerous alleged unfair labor practices, the workers decided that they were left with no choice, that the company had no interest in treating them fairly, and that the only thing they could do was withhold their labor until the company decided to be fair to them.
Chicken is the number one meat product in the U.S. yet Case Farms is paying its dedicated workforce a paltry $8.10 per hour, on average, which translates into an annual income of $16,000 — 20% below the federal poverty level for a family of four.
Poultry processing is one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. The dangerous conditions faced by workers in the poultry industry have been documented by academics, the media and the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Poultry workers typically perform physically demanding, repetitive work, during which they stand for long periods of time at fast moving production lines while using ultra-sharp knives and scissors. Working in extreme temperatures they often make up to 40,000 repetitive cutting motions per shift.
In addition to the plant in Winesburg, OH, Case Farms operates poultry plants in Morganton and Goldsboro North Carolina. Case has a history of forcing workers to withhold their labor in order to achieve fair treatment by management.
The UFCW International Union represents more than 1.3 million members in the U.S. and Canada, including 250,000 workers in the poultry and meatpacking industries. UFCW Local 880 represents more than 22,000 workers across Northern Ohio including supermarket workers and food processing workers.