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July 9, 2020

As COVID-19 Threatens America’s Food Supply Chain, UFCW Calls on Congress to Prioritize Safety by Slowing Production Speeds in Meatpacking Plants

Union for 250,000 Workers in Meatpacking and Food Processing Calls for Slower Line Speeds, Safer Workplaces for Essential Workers Endangered by COVID-19 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), which represents more than 250,000 workers in food processing and meatpacking plants, announced its support for the Safe Line Speeds in COVID-19 Act, introduced by U.S. Representatives Marcia Fudge (OH-11), Rosa DeLauro (CT-03), and Bennie G. Thompson (MS-02), which would impose safe line speed limits at meatpacking plants to ensure worker safety and social distancing. This comes at a critical moment for the U.S. food supply chain as COVID-19 continues to impact meatpacking plants and workers across the country.  

UFCW International President Marc Perrone released the following statement:  

“America’s meatpacking workers have been on the frontlines of this pandemic since day one, putting themselves in harm’s way to make sure our families have the food we need. As COVID-19 continues to put our country’s meatpacking workers at risk, we must take action to reduce line speeds in these plants to ensure workers can maintain social distancing and stay safe on the job.  

“This bill is a critical step to reining in the dangerously fast line speeds at so many meatpacking plants and will put the safety of workers and our country’s food supply first. Congress must pass this vital legislation immediately.”  

Congressional Leaders for Worker Safety  

Keeping frontline workers safe at meatpacking plants, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, is a key priority for the members of Congress introducing this legislation.  

“The meat and poultry processing industry has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic, with infection hotspots appearing in plants across the country,” said U.S. Representative Marcia Fudge (OH-11).  “Fast line speeds make the dangerous conditions workers at these plants already face even worse by packing them closer together and placing them at greater risk of contracting or spreading the virus.  Waiving limits on processing speeds also threatens the safety of our food supply.  As COVID-19 cases continue to soar at processing plants, we must prioritize worker, food, and animal safety over increased production and profits.”  

“For years, USDA has been complicit in the consolidation of the meat processing industry by gifting linespeed waivers to corporate meatpackers at the expense of worker safety, the livelihoods of farmers and ranchers, and the safety of the nation’s meat supply,” said U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro (CT-03). “The high-profile COVID-19 outbreaks at meat packing plants have raised questions of the safety of the conditions inside these plants. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, these workers experienced injuries at a higher rate than comparable occupations. And now, faster linespeeds make it impossible for workers to practice social distancing and to comply with safety guidelines. That is why I am proud to join the leadership shown by Rep. Fudge in introducing this legislation that will reign in these reckless linespeed waivers for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency.” 

“It is imperative that we ensure worker safety on slaughter lines,” said U.S. Representative Bennie G. Thompson (MS-02). “Safety can not be exchanged for high production. During this unprecedented time of COVID-19, we should take the necessary precautions to ensure employees are sare while working at meat and  poultry establishments.” 

Background 

UFCW recently announced that in the first 100 days of COVID-19, there have already been 238 worker deaths and nearly 29,000 workers infected or exposed among its members in grocery stores, meatpacking plants, healthcare facilities, and other essential businesses. This includes 93 worker deaths in the meatpacking and food processing industries. 

UFCW announced its support today for the Safe Line Speeds in COVID-19 Act to ensure safe line speed limits in meatpacking plants.  

The USDA has repeatedly attempted to remove line speed limits in pork and poultry plants, increasing the risk to both workers and food safety.   

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic threatens the country’s food supply chain, the USDA has continued to grant waivers that allow plants to run faster and endanger more workers.  

In addition to calling on Congress for action today, UFCW is continuing to pursue litigation to maintain line speed limits in pork plants nationwide and prevent companies from further jeopardizing the health and safety of the nation’s food supply chain with dangerous increases to production speeds.

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The UFCW is the largest private sector union in the United States, representing 1.3 million professionals and their families in grocery stores, meatpacking, food processing, retail shops and other industries.

Our members help put food on our nation’s tables and serve customers in all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico. Learn more about the UFCW at www.ufcw.org