September 3, 2020
America’s Meatpacking Union, Sen. Cory Booker, Rep. Marcia Fudge Demand USDA Stop Endangering Poultry Workers on Frontlines of COVID-19 Pandemic
USDA’s Relentless Push for Faster Line Speeds Further Endangers Poultry Workers and Food Supply Already At Risk During Pandemic
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), America’s meatpacking union with 1.3 million workers, along with U.S. Senator Cory Booker (New Jersey) and Representative Marcia Fudge (Ohio), announced their opposition to a proposed United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulation increasing line speeds in poultry plants across America.
“The hard-working men and women of America’s poultry industry deserve safe workplaces,” said UFCW International President Marc Perrone. “As our country’s poultry workers have been battling a pandemic, they should not have to also battle USDA seeking to make their workplaces less safe. Slower line speeds keep workers safer from injuries and ensure safe social distancing to stop the spread of coronavirus. The USDA must end its reckless efforts to increase line speeds, and instead put the safety of America’s workers and food supply first.”
“Fast line speeds worsen already unsafe conditions on slaughter lines and make it nearly impossible for workers to socially distance,” said Rep. Marcia Fudge. “In fact, nearly all of the poultry plants that USDA allowed to operate faster line speeds this spring have been cited for worker safety violations or experienced COVID outbreaks. In the middle of a pandemic, USDA should be prioritizing worker safety. Congress must act now and pass my Safe Line Speeds in COVID-19 Act to block USDA from increasing poultry line speeds and putting the health and safety of the meatpacking workforce at greater risk.”
“Despite a surge of COVID-19 outbreaks in meatpacking plants across the country, the USDA continued to grant line speed request waivers that threatened the health and safety of workers, their families, and consumers,” said Senator Cory Booker. “The USDA has now proposed to permanently increase line speeds in poultry plants—an action that is both dangerous and irresponsible. Now is the time, more than ever, that we pass the Safe Line Speeds in COVID-19 Act and protect workers and communities from the harm of these reckless giveaways to corporate agribusiness.”
UFCW, the top union for American meatpacking and poultry workers, has been a leading national voice for strengthening safeguards in these plants, which have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
UFCW reports that COVID-19 continues to threaten frontline food workers across the country, with more than 250 food worker deaths and over 36,000 food workers infected or exposed. This includes at least 115 meatpacking worker deaths and over 17,700 meatpacking workers infected or exposed to the virus.
Poultry Plant Regulation
The USDA regulates poultry line speed in plants across the United States for both worker safety and to allow for food inspection. Current line speeds are about 140 birds per minute and the proposed regulation allows plants to operate at up to 175 birds per minute.
In 2017, the USDA considered a petition from the National Chicken Council to eliminate line speed limits. That effort was ultimately rejected after an outpouring of opposition from workers and consumers.
Since then, the USDA has continued to approve record numbers of waivers to allow individual plants to operate at dangerously fast speeds, despite the coronavirus pandemic.
Union and Legislative Action
The UFCW and Public Citizen have filed a lawsuit to stop this dangerous practice and prevent further line speed waivers in the poultry industry.
Senator Cory Booker along with Representative Fudge have introduced “The Safe Line Speeds in COVID-19 Act” to ensure that USDA protects worker safety by ending this practice.