President Hansen has a new column up on the Huffington Post about big poultry’s push for a new rule to increase line speed in the poultry plants. As he says, “The only thing worse than a chicken with its head cut off is one with its head in the sand. That was my initial reaction after reading Administrator Alfred Almanza’s piece defending Big Poultry’s push to dramatically increase line speed in our nation’s plants.”
WASHINGTON, DC—The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) today announced its opposition to a Big Poultry-driven inspection process being considered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The proposed rule, which would increase the speed that birds are processed from 70-91 a minute to a maximum of 175 a minute, could put workers at poultry plants in increased danger.
“Increased line speeds means increased bottom lines for Big Poultry,” said Mark Laurtisen, UFCW International Vice President and Director of the Food Processing, Packing and Manufacturing Division. “For workers, it means more danger on the job.”
By increasing line speed so dramatically, workers will be at heightened risk of repetitive motion related injuries. In fact, a recent study by Wake Forest University showed that 59 percent of poultry workers had definite or possible carpal tunnel syndrome at current line speeds. Despite these alarming statistics, no comprehensive effort has been made to determine the impact this proposed system will have on the health and safety of workers.
“Quite frankly, it is no surprise that Big Poultry wants to rush this new system into operation,” Lauritsen said. “That’s why USDA—as the responsible regulator—must slow this process down until it can guarantee that workers are protected.”
The UFCW is calling on USDA to halt this rule until the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conducts comprehensive studies on the impact it would have on the health and safety of workers in poultry plants. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) must then use that information to develop a standard that would adequately protect workers.
Many UFCW members have already submitted their opposition to USDA in advance of the April 26 comment deadline. The UFCW will continue its push for worker safety into the summer and beyond.
You may have heard that the USDA has proposed a rule that will waive current line speed limits in poultry plants and permit processing to increase from 75-91 birds per minute to 175 birds per minute. No study has been conducted to determine the impact that increasing the speed of the line will have on worker safety.
USDA did not contact the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the agency responsible for protecting the health and safety of American workers, before publishing this proposed rule. This sets an alarming precedent for all agencies that may want to use administrative rulemaking to change policies that could weaken health and safety protections for workers. This lack of transparency or collaboration with the agency responsible for workplace safety could put workers in danger. And as we know, when worker safety is at risk in food processing facilities, the safety of our food supply can also be jeopardized.
Please join the UFCW in urging the USDA to pull this rule in its entirety until adequate safety studies are conducted and OSHA uses this information to create standards to protect workers. Click here to send a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, urging him to pull the poultry rule today.