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November 24, 2009

Tyson and UFCW Mark Two Decades of Workplace Safety Progress

Dakota Dunes, S.D. – The nation’s leading meat processor and the country’s largest union representing meatpacking and food processing workers have just completed the 20th year of a workplace ergonomics program that is making meat processing jobs safer.

The ground-breaking program initiated by Tyson Fresh Meats, formerly known as IBP, and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union, has involved workplace improvements that have helped reduce worker injuries and illnesses, such as strains and sprains.

Ergonomics, which is the science of designing the workplace to fit the worker, had not been extensively used in the meat industry until the company and union reached an agreement after an historic OSHA citation and settlement in late November 1988 followed up with the joint Tyson-UFCW program to develop a comprehensive ergonomics research program.

The program got underway in early 1989, with the company’s Dakota City, Nebraska, beef complex serving as the pilot plant, and production workers represented by UFCW Local 222, were actively involved.  Due to the success of the pilot, the program was quickly expanded to all of the company’s beef and pork plants.

Some of the key elements of the program include ongoing ergonomics training for production workers; the involvement of hourly workers as ‘ergonomic monitors;’worksite analysis and the redesign of work stations and equipment; and a medical management program focused on early detection and treatment of workplace injuries and illnesses.

Tyson and UFCW leaders believe the program has made a difference.  For example, the OSHA recordable injury and illness rate at the Dakota City plant is currently running 67 percent below the rate recorded in 1991.  Meanwhile, the current rate of injuries and illnesses at Dakota City requiring the involvement of a physician is 73 percent below 1991 levels.

“Over the past 20 years, our company has devoted millions of dollars in ergonomically designed equipment and process improvements, as well as training, which we believe have helped prevent workplace injuries and illnesses,” said Jim Lochner, chief operating officer of Tyson Foods.  “However, the real key to the success of this program has been the workers who serve as safety and ergonomics monitors.  The input we’ve received from hourly production workers and the participation of our plant and corporate management teams, have been invaluable.”

“What this program shows is that when workers have input on working conditions, when they are part of the decision-making process, you come up with a better, safer environment—and that’s good for everybody,” said UFCW Food Processing, Packing and Manufacturing Division Director Mark Lauritsen.  “It works because everyone is involved from Tyson management to UFCW leaders, ergo monitors and production workers.”

“The union and Tyson have worked together to make this ergonomics program what it is today (and) I think we’re way ahead of the industry with our program,” said Marvin Harrington, President of UFCW Local 222, which represents workers at the Dakota City plant.  “We’re proud the program is part of our UFCW contract with Tyson.  We train UFCW members on how to identify hazards and recommend fixes.  Having both Tyson management and UFCW members engaged on detecting hazards makes for an efficient process.”

Tyson has been involved in numerous engineering projects designed to modify work stations and equipment in order to reduce physical stressors on the job.  Examples include redesigned knife handles, height-adjustable work stations, use of lighter-weight saws/power tools, hydraulic/mechanical assists to lift or separate product, lower overhead chains and conveyors to eliminate reaching over shoulder height, product diverters on conveyor lines to bring product closer to workers, comfortable/level floor surfaces, improved illumination and job rotation.   The company has also worked to reduce the vibration generated by certain tools and modified personal protective equipment to make it fit better and be more comfortable.

“We’ve implemented some major mechanical and process changes in our beef and pork plants over the years,” said Tom DeRoos, Corporate Ergonomics Program Manager for Tyson.  “This includes equipment designed to replace some of what had previously been done manually by production workers.  For example, many of our pork plants have automatic loin trimmers to remove fat from surface of the pork loins.”

Ergonomics were part of the design of Tyson’s new, multi-million dollar beef processing floor at Dakota City.  The new addition, which became operational in early 2006, includes adjustable work stations as well as a production flow designed with worker safety and health in mind.

But not all of the ergonomic improvements have involved major changes.  “Many of them have been what we call ‘quick fixes,’ which are projects that can be done in a matter of a few days,” said Dennis Golden, Training Manager/Ergonomics Liaison at Tyson’s Dakota City plant, who has been involved in the ergonomics program since its inception.  “For example, since late 1988, we’ve implemented more than 3,600 quick fixes at our Dakota City plant, making minor adjustments such as moving a gear box or relocating a knife sanitizer to make the work station more comfortable for team members.”

“I’ve been involved with the ergo program from the start as a UFCW member serving on a monitoring committee and as a union representative,” said Carmen Hacht, Local 222 Recorder.   “The key to making it work is monitors making the rounds, surveying workers, documenting the kinds of strain people are feeling, then following up and making sure that the fixes make a positive difference.”

Effective medical management is also essential to the ergonomics program. Its focus is early reporting and treatment of any workplace injuries or illnesses. “We require our team members to report all work-related injuries or illnesses, no matter how minor they believe them to be,” said DeRoos.  “By immediately assessing and treating such injuries or illnesses, we’re often able to help reduce the severity and duration.”

Tyson Fresh Meats currently operates eight beef plant and six pork plants in the United States.  In addition to Dakota City, this includes beef plants in Amarillo, Texas; Denison, Iowa; Joslin, Illinois; Emporia, Kansas; Finney County, Kansas; Lexington, Nebraska; and Pasco, Washington.  The company’s pork plants are in Logansport, Indiana; Louisa County, Iowa; Storm Lake, Iowa; Perry, Iowa; Waterloo, Iowa; and Madison, Nebraska.   The UFCW represents workers at Tyson plants in Dakota City, Joslin, Perry, Logansport and Waterloo.

About Tyson Foods, Inc.

Tyson Foods, Inc., founded in 1935 with headquarters in Springdale, Arkansas, is the world’s largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef and pork, the second-largest food production company in the Fortune 500 and a member of the S&P 500. The company produces a wide variety of protein-based and prepared food products and is the recognized market leader in the retail and foodservice markets it serves.  Tyson provides products and service to customers throughout the United States and more than 90 countries.  The company has approximately 117,000 Team Members employed at more than 300 facilities and offices in the United States and around the world.  Through its Core Values, Code of Conduct and Team Member Bill of Rights, Tyson strives to operate with integrity and trust and is committed to creating value for its shareholders, customers and Team Members. The company also strives to be faith-friendly, provide a safe work environment and serve as stewards of the animals, land and environment entrusted to it.

About the UFCW

The UFCW represents 1.3 million workers, 250,000 in the meatpacking and poultry industries, including 22,000 who work at Tyson plants.  UFCW members also work in the health care, garment, chemical, distillery and retail industries. The UFCW and its predecessor unions have represented workers in the packing and processing industries for more than 100 years. Union contracts in the industry ensured equal pay for equal work for African Americans and women decades before equal pay became a larger societal goal. The UFCW has also been a leading national voice on workplace safety and health, helping spearhead protective federal legislation and OSHA regulations on waste containment, ergonomics, diacetyl, and combustible dust, among other initiatives.

November 17, 2009


Washington, DC—Today the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) announced support for President Obama’s nominee, Stephanie Rose, for U.S. Attorney for northern Iowa. Her twelve years as a lead prosecutor make her an outstanding choice to serve as a U.S. Attorney.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency’s 2008 raid on the Agriprocessor plant in Postville, Iowa, should in no way hold up Ms. Rose’s confirmation. The Bush administration’s failed enforcement-only approach to immigration policy was the cause of the Postville raid and its aftermath. That enforcement-only approach—directed from Washington, DC—created more problems than it solved in numerous communities.

Ms. Rose deserves to be confirmed by the entire Senate.

November 16, 2009

GAO Report Clear: OSHA Must Focus on Workers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – “Today, a new report by the Government Accountability Office reveals that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) frequently undercounts injuries to American workers, and reveals a complete and systemic failure in the way that OSHA tracks workplace injuries.

“The report also revealed a convoluted and ineffective system of injury reporting that allows companies to pressure workers, supervisors and medical professionals to underreport workplace injuries. Corporations cannot be allowed to continue practices that promote the illusion of safety by blaming workers instead of unsafe working conditions.

“Thousands of workers in America deal with workplace injuries everyday. This epidemic of suffering is damaging to the workers, their colleagues, their workplaces, and their families and the communities in which they live. American companies, especially those in the food processing industries, must stop contributing to this problem by pressuring and intimidating workers to keep silent about these problems.

“We must stop this epidemic – and it can’t be done without clear and accurate reporting of the injuries as they occur. Unfortunately, this GAO report makes clear current OSHA policies are centered on crunching numbers rather than getting the facts from workers. In fact, OSHA inspectors are not required to interview a single worker when auditing injury reports.

“Effective and comprehensive injury prevention must place workers and the worker voice at the center of the effort. Only when workers are meaningfully involved can we grasp the true scale of workplace injuries and implement meaningful regulations that make America’s workplaces safer.

“This report is a step in the right direction, and we’re glad that government is recognizing what the Charlotte Observer among others have already reported. However, now we must fix this problem. America’s corporations must be responsible and stop their deceptive reporting practices and better oversight and inspections by both federal and state OSHAs must ensure it.”

November 10, 2009

Smithfield, UFCW come together over food donation

Smithfield, UFCW come together over food donation

November 9, 2009

UFCW and Smithfield Foods Launch Feed the Hungry Program

The UFCW and Smithfield Foods are launching a joint Feed the Hungry Program today in New York City to bring much needed assistance to the growing number of people facing hunger and food insecurity in our communities. The project will help deliver more than one million servings of protein to the Food Bank of New York City.

Today’s kick-off event is the first in a multi-city tour across America that will reach from coast-to-coast. The UFCW and Smithfield plan to donate at least 20 million servings of food to a local food bank at each of the scheduled stops.

The U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that more than 36 million people in the United States, including 12.6 million children, live in households considered to be food insecure. That is more than 1 in 10 households who experience hunger or the risk of hunger.

The UFCW is committed to ensuring that families across the country have the relief and the opportunities they need to weather the current economic crises. All across the country UFCW members are on the frontlines of efforts to improve and strengthen their communities, and this partnership reflects their unwavering commitment to protect and advocate for families during tough times.

This partnership is about bringing together organizations, including our represented grocery stores, with the resources, the relationships and the know-how to ensure that vulnerable communities across the country have access to well-supplied food banks. Our goal is simple: Get good, nutritious food to as many families, in as many communities, as possible.

November 5, 2009


UFCW Releases Briefing Paper Detailing How Free Rider Provision Would Incentivize Irresponsible Walmart Employment Practices and Diminish Shared Responsibility for Health Care Reform 

Washington, DC—The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) released a briefing paper, today, examining the impact of the Senate’s Free Rider provision on the nation’s largest private employer – retail giant Walmart.   The provision would have the unintended consequences of:

  • Providing little or no incentive for Walmart to provide better care to its workers;
  • Continuing Walmart workers’ dependence on federal and state subsidies for Medicaid and Medicare, and encourage Walmart to have even more workers dependent on Medicaid and Medicare;
  • Making few, if any, Walmart workers eligible for tax credits to purchase better insurance through the health insurance exchange;
  • Forcing low-income Walmart workers into high-deductible company-provided insurance;
  • Incentivizing the hiring of a largely part-time workforce, and encourage reducing workers’ hours as a way to reduce health care costs.

The Free Rider provision currently would require that, if an employer with more than 50 employees has employees who receive a subsidy (i.e., tax credit) for insurance through an exchange, the employer has to pay a penalty that is the lesser of: The average national tax credit for insurance through exchanges multiplied by the number of full-time employees receiving the tax credit; or $750 times the total number of full-time employees of the company.

But if an employer has only part-time employees receiving tax credits for insurance purchased through an exchange, the employer pays no penalty. Employers also pay no penalty for workers who are on Medicaid or Medicare. And if employers offer bare bones, but high deductible, high co-pay coverage with low premiums, workers would be forced to accept this coverage, purchase coverage through an exchange without receiving tax credits, or pay a penalty for being uninsured—with the employer facing no penalty under the current free rider provision.

Walmart’s employment practices, including limited hours and pay that force many onto public assistance, as well as its cafeteria of health care plans that range from unaffordable premiums to unaffordable deductibles and co-pays for low end premiums would virtually exempt its workers from receiving tax credits for purchasing coverage through an exchange, and, consequently, exempt the company from any free rider penalty.

“A Free Rider provision that would have zero impact on Walmart is a problem,” said UFCW Executive Vice President Pat O’Neill. “The company employs 1.4 million workers in our country, and nearly 700,000 of those employees already get their health care insurance from public assistance, in the emergency room, or a spouse who has a responsible employer. President Obama laid down the principle that health care is a shared responsibility. If the country’s largest employer has no responsibility under the Senate Free Rider provision, then other employers will follow the Walmart example.”

Go to www.wakeupwalmart.com for a complete copy of the UFCW Free Rider Briefing Paper.


November 3, 2009

Walmart to Finally Pay Some Workers

WASHINGTON, DC – Today Walmart announced it will pay $85 million dollars to hundreds of thousands of current and former Walmart workers for not compensating them for the work they performed. This lawsuit settlement is the latest in a string of multi-million dollar payouts by Walmart as it attempts to distance itself from a track record of poor employment practices and violations of workplace laws.

“It shouldn’t take the average worker years in court and expensive lawyers to get paid,” said Pat O’Neill, Executive Vice President of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, “Walmart should be a good corporate citizen instead.”

Walmart has been involved in around 90 class action wage and hour lawsuits across the United States – including cases where the payout including penalties could have totaled as much as $2 billion.

“Walmart’s workers aren’t asking for a bailout – just to be paid for the work they’ve done,” said O’Neill, “and this case proves that Walmart can’t even do that.”