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New Government Study Confirms Dangers of Working in Poultry Industry

UFCWnewsWASHINGTON, DC—A new study released by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) confirms what workers in the poultry industry have been saying for decades—it is among the most dangerous places to work in America.

Among the key findings of the report:

  • 42 percent of workers had evidence of carpal tunnel syndrome
  • 41 percent of workers performed daily tasks above the threshold recommended by industry experts
  • 57 percent of workers reported at least one musculoskeletal symptom

The report was commissioned to allay safety concerns about the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) proposed poultry modernization rule, which would increase the speed that birds are processed from 70-91 a minute to a maximum of 175 a minute. Yet the drastic level of injury documented by NIOSH occurred before lines were ever speeded up.

“One injury is one too many,” said UFCW International President Joe Hansen. “Four out of ten workers with carpal tunnel. Nearly six out of ten showing symptoms. This is an epidemic.”

Hansen said the industry, which has fought efforts to give workers a union voice on the job, should stop dragging its feet and adopt the recommendations outlined in the NIOSH report. They include but are not limited to: designing job tasks at the levels recommended by industry experts, providing more than one break during a work shift, and enhancing reporting, screening, and assessment of musculoskeletal disorders.

Hansen called the idea of proceeding with the poultry modernization rule “reckless” given the current rash of injuries across the industry. “The USDA must pull this rule and take a hard look at how to improve safety in our nation’s poultry plants,” he said. “This NIOSH report is both a wakeup call and a warning sign.”

By increasing line speed so dramatically, workers will be at heightened risk of repetitive motion related injuries. Despite this fact, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has yet to develop a standard that would adequately protect workers.

Hansen said the rule should be scrapped until poultry workers can be guaranteed a safe work environment.

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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. For more information about the UFCW’s effort to protect workers’ rights and strengthen America’s middle class, visit www.ufcw.org, or join our online community at www.facebook.com/UFCWinternational and www.twitter.com/ufcw.

 

UFCW JBS Workers Lobby to Protect Workers in the Beef and Pork Industries

UFCW JBS workers met with USDA/GIPSA Administrator Larry Mitchell along with numerous members of Congress to lobby for meatpacking workers.

UFCW JBS workers met with USDA/GIPSA Administrator Larry Mitchell along with numerous members of Congress to lobby for meatpacking workers.

Last week, UFCW JBS beef and pork workers traveled to Washington, D.C. for a series of lobby days to advocate for workers who are facing hardships in the meatpacking industry. Members from UFCW Locals 7R, 227, 293, 435, 540, 951, 1149, 1161, 1473, and 1776 visited with White House staff, numerous members of Congress, the DOL, and also the USDA.

During their sessions with congressmen and department officials, workers shared their stories of how they are negatively impacted by cattle shortages due to the severe drought, and hog shortages because of the PED virus.

“We’re used to working 50-60 hours a week. Now because of the drought we’re seeing a lot less work because there just aren’t enough cattle to slaughter,” said Tim Gavaldon, a JBS beef plant worker from Greeley, Colo., and member of UFCW Local 7R. “It’s really taking a toll on workers and our communities are hurting financially.”

Workers lobbied for members of Congress to support a new drought relief bill. The California Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2014 (S. 2016) was introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein and includes a section covering emergency supplemental agriculture disaster appropriations for agricultural and migrant farm workers. The bill would provide funds for food, rental assistance, and utilities. UFCW members advocated for similar legislation to be introduced so it includes not just farm workers, but meatpackers and food processors as well.

Workers also expressed their concern about a new healthcare plan that JBS is proposing. At a time when workers are already struggling because of reduced hours, JBS is proposing a substandard health plan that will double, or even triple the health costs for workers. If the new plan goes into effect, the costs are so high that a family could become bankrupt if they decide to have a baby or if there is a medical emergency.

“We came to Washington, D.C., to stand together and tell people on Capitol Hill that the new plan is unacceptable. This new health plan could mean financial ruin for workers and their families. We work hard to help make JBS a profitable company and now they are trying to push this on us for extra profits,” said Ramon Sanchez, a JBS beef plant worker form Cactus, Texas and member of UFCW Local 540.

UFCW JBS workers from across the country will continue to stand together and support each other until they are back to operating at full time and also fight for a fair health plan that protects workers.

UFCW Local 75 Cincinnati Processing Workers Ratify Their First Contract

UFCW Local 75 workers at Cincinnati Processing, a plant that supplies pork products to Kroger stores in four states, ratified their first contract on March 26. Organizing at the plant was a multi-decade struggle for plant workers and the first contract marks the successful conclusion of that campaign.

The cutting of pork products used to the be the job of union butchers at Kroger stores across the Midwest. However, with the increasing role of case-ready meat, those jobs transitioned to further processing facilities like Cincinnati Processing. Workers began to organize at the plant in the 1990s. However, a prolonged legal battle kept these workers from forming their union.

Cincinnati BeefTheir struggle to have a voice at work at Cincinnati Processing continued for a decade, but ended with a successful vote in 2013. Since then, workers have been fighting hard to negotiate a good first contract. It took a unanimous strike vote, but the workers finally got a contract they could be proud of in their new union shop.

“With this contract we were able to improve our working conditions and win a voice on the job,” said Ignacio Huerta, a cutter at the plant for six years.  “I’m so proud of my coworkers for standing together and making this happen.”