The National Employment Law Project (NELP) released yet another report finding poultry to be one of the most dangerous industries to work in, underscoring the continued importance of the UFCW’s efforts to provide a voice for the hard-working men and women of the poultry industry and to make sure no worker is left to suffer on their own.
The report takes a look at serious injury rates in 29 states and finds the rate of serious injuries, such as amputations, to be disproportionately high in poultry plants.
This report is consistent with similar trends shown in past reports by other organizations such as Oxfam, with whom the UFCW has worked to improve safety standards in the poultry and meatpacking industries.
Past reports have found workers at poultry plants, which have a much lower rate of union representation than other meat packing plants, were more likely to suffer from Cumulative Trauma Disorders (CTDs) and that many workers in nonunion plants were forced to use adult diapers due to a lack of bathroom breaks and the constant, grueling pace of work.
More injuries than saw mills and other high risk industries
Even when compared to other high risk industries, this report shows an alarmingly high injury rate:
According to the data, the poultry industry as a whole reported 180 severe injuries resulting in hospitalizations or amputations—a number that put them at the 12th-highest number of severe injuries reported to federal OSHA. Workers in the industry suffered a greater number of serious injuries than much of the construction industry, the auto industry, the steel industry, saw mills, and many other high-risk industries. And these numbers only reflect instances in 29 states. Further, OSHA followed up with inspections in response to 86 of these reports, finding a total of 750 violations in the plants, of which 84 were willful or repeat violations that carry the highest fines.
The rates of injury are likely even higher than reported
The report also makes note that as dramatic as the number of injuries are, they likely don’t come close to representing the full scope of the problem:
Three government agencies, OSHA, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the GAO, have found that the poultry processing industry is underreporting the serious injuries that occur in the plants.
A 2009 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, along with numerous other studies, have documented that many workplace injuries are not reported by employers. Further, according to a recent report issued by OSHA in 2016, “OSHA believes that many severe injuries—perhaps 50 percent or more—are not reported.”8 Other studies have concluded that the actual number of work-related injuries is three times higher than what companies report.
The citation alleged that “the employer delayed evaluation, care, and/or treatment from a medical provider, which could result in health hazards such as, but not limited to, increased risk of further injury, prolonged healing, exacerbation of pain and limited recovery from work-related injuries/illnesses.” The citation went on to describe that Pilgrim’s Pride “failed to make timely appropriate medical referrals for employees with injuries related to chronic and acute exposures and incidents. The employees are exposed to injuries which include burns, loss of consciousness, and blunt force trauma which require appropriate evaluation and treatment.”
UFCW’s presence is vital
UFCW contracts include health and safety language to protect workers. This helps to ensure safe working conditions, union access to perform worksite inspections and medical and exposure records, training, joint health and safety committees, protective equipment and chief, walking and ergonomic stewards that can accompany government inspectors during their paid time. Union contracts also include reimbursement for protective gear.
But the percentage of workers who have UFCW representation is much lower in poultry plants than in other meat packing plants. Only about a third of poultry workers are UFCW members, making improvements in workplace safety more difficult to secure.
Beyond additional workplace protections offered by a union contract, the UFCW’s influence in these plants helps combat a climate of fear and intimidation.
“Many workers are afraid to speak up and advocate for better treatment. Companies increasingly turn to ‘a variety of economically desperate and socially isolated populations,’ many of whom face obstacles that prevent them from standing up and speaking out about abuses in the workplace. In the words of many, the industry takes advantage of workers who live and work in a climate of fear. – Lives on the Line: The Cost of Cheap Chicken, Oxfam
Both in the recommendations of the most recent NELP report and in past reports such as Oxfam’s Lives on the Line: The Cost of Cheap Chicken, the need for workers to have better compensation and a voice on the job is repeatedly echoed.
“Unions provide poultry workers with one of the best ways to improve their safety on the job because we create an environment where people know their rights and feel empowered to speak up,” said Perrone. “We make sure that workers can advocate for their well-being without the fear of being fired.”
Progress through partnership
The NELP report comes on the heels of Tyson’s announcement to rededicate itself to workplace safety. The day before the report was released, Tyson committed to continuing its collaboration with the UFCW on a workplace safety and illness and injury prevention initiative that will be rolled out to all plants and be released publicly. Other highlights in the company’s announcement include:
A new initiative on transparency stating that the company will begin publicly sharing results of its third party social compliance audits.
A new initiative on compensation stating that Tyson Foods will make sure it’s providing competitive wages and benefits.
Reaffirming its commitment to allowing regularly scheduled breaks, as well as restroom breaks, as needed.
Reaffirming its commitment to running its processes at a speed according to the number of people available to work.
Reaffirming its commitment to a policy allowing workers to stop the line at any time for worker or food safety issues.
Reaffirming its commitment to having Team Member safety councils in place at all plants.
“Tyson Foods’ commitment to worker safety and workers’ rights should not just be applauded — it should serve as a model for the rest of the industry,” said Perrone. “Through our ongoing partnership with Tyson Foods, we have already made valuable progress. We look forward to these new and expanded initiatives and to continuing to work together to provide a better, safer workplace for the hard-working men and women at Tyson Foods.”
All jobs take some kind of physical toll on the body, but through training employees to recognize safety hazards and working with employers to minimize risk, we can create safe workplaces and help reduce preventable injuries.
The UFCW is committed to nurturing a culture of safety in the workplaces we represent and working with employers to find innovative solutions. We are committed to seeing our members arrive to work safely and leave work safely.
Some Injuries are Cumulative
When you think of injuries on the job, you might first think of a specific accident, like a slip and a fall or getting a hand caught in a machine. But many injuries from work are not so obvious. Something as harmless seeming as operating a register can lead to pain when you are ringing up customers for hours on end, day after day.
Cumulative Trauma Disorders
If work and rest are balanced, it is more likely that our bodies will be able to heal the harm that happens at work. When the healing process cannot keep up with the damage, it can worsen to become a Cumulative Trauma Disorder (CTD).
The major risk factors for Cumulative Trauma Disorders are:
Posture is the way workers must position their bodies in order to do their jobs. It refers to the design of the work station, machinery and tools. Posture is not about what workers are doing wrong.
Effective ergonomic solutions that reduce awkward postures include adjustable work stations, sit/stand options, and correctly designed tools.
Force is the physical effort we use with our bodies to push, pull, lift, lower, and grip when we are working.
Effective ergonomic solutions that reduce excessive force include knife sharpening, lift assists, and eliminating pinch grips.
Repetition is the number of times we make the same movement using the same parts of our body; how fast the movements are, and over what period of time. Repetition is directly related to line speed, production pressures, and staffing.
Effective ergonomic solutions that reduce excessive repetition include line speed reduction, adequate staffing, and reasonable workloads.
Other factors such as temperature, vibration and stress may also contribute to the risk of injury.
Good Programs Focus on Minimizing Risk, Not Symptoms
Beware of ergonomic programs that do not focus on all of the risk factors. While such programs may increase productivity, they may not decrease injuries.
Some approaches do NOT address risk factors at all, and may therefore be useless, and even harmful. Examples of this include back belts and stretching exercises.
For example, stretching and doing hand strengthening exercises after a long day of work might help them feel better in the short term, but it does nothing to actually address the source of the problem. A real safety solution would look at the bigger picture: are inadequate staffing or unreasonable workloads requiring you to work faster than what can be done safely? Is your workstation poorly designed and forcing you to work in an awkward posture? Are you having to expend more energy than is necessary to get the job done due to dull knives or tools that are the wrong size?
Spring is just around and the corner, making March the perfect time of year to refocus on eating right, getting healthy, and chasing away those winter blues. We know how hard it can be to balance work with all the demands of your life and still stay focused on your nutrition, but eating healthier foods doesn’t have to be a chore. Throughout the month, we’ll be sharing tips with you to make it easier to stay excited and engaged, and help get you on track to a better you and a better life.
Food, Nutrition and Health Tips from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:
Plan what you’re going to eat
Before you head for the grocery store, plan your meals and snacks for the week. Review recipes for what ingredients are needed. Check to see what foods you already have and make a list of what you need to buy. If you are having trouble coming up with ideas, try checking what’s on sale in the produce and meat departments and look up recipes that feature those ingredients.
When you shop with a list, you will be less likely to buy extra items that are not on it.
Decide how much to make
Making a large batch by doubling a recipe is an easy way to save time in the kitchen and try to stretch your budget even further. Extra portions can be used for lunches or meals later in the week, or freeze leftovers in individual containers for future use on nights when you don’t have time to cook. Plus buying larger quantities of each ingredient can help you save money by taking advantage of cheaper bulk prices.
Shop for foods that are in season
Fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season are usually easier to get and may be a lot less expensive. Just remember that some fresh fruits and vegetables don’t last long. Buy small amounts at a time to avoid having to throw away spoiled produce.
Try canned or frozen produce
At certain times of the year, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables may be less expensive than fresh. For canned items, choose fruit canned in 100% fruit juice and vegetables with “low sodium” or “no salt added” on the label.
Focus on nutritious, low-cost foods
Certain foods tend to be less expensive, so you can make the most of your food dollars by finding recipes that use the following ingredients: beans, peas, and lentils; sweet or white potatoes; eggs; peanut butter; canned salmon, tuna or crabmeat; grains such as oats, brown rice, barley or quinoa; and frozen or canned fruits and vegetables.
Watch portion sizes
Eating too much of even lower cost foods and beverages can add up to extra dollars and calories. Use smaller plates, bowls and glasses to help keep portions under control. Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables and the other half with whole grains and lean meat, poultry, seafood or beans. This is an easy way to eat a balanced meal while controlling portions and cost. To complete the meal, add a glass of fat-free or low-fat milk or a serving of fat-free yogurt for dessert.
Make your own healthy snacks
Convenience costs money, so many snacks, even healthy ones, usually cost more when sold individually. Make your own snacks by purchasing large tubs of low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese and dividing them into one-cup containers. For trail mix, combine nuts, dried fruit and whole grain pretzels or cereal; store small portions in airtight containers. Air-popped popcorn and whole fresh fruits in season also tend to cost less compared to prepackaged items.
Cook more, eat out less
Many foods prepared at home are cheaper and more nutritious. Also, convenience foods like frozen dinners, pre-cut vegetables and instant rice or oatmeal will cost you more than if you make them from scratch. Go back to basics and find a few simple and healthy recipes that your family enjoys.
If you’ve got 15 minutes before you start your work day, why not try this short routine to help your body gear up for the stress and strain of standing for hours on end.
On the Job
Don’t forget to stretch and move throughout your day, too. Even if you don’t have much space, you can do a few simple exercises to help break up the monotony and increase blood flow.
1.) Alternating knee flexion
2.) Figure-8 hip rotations
3.) Hacky-sack kicks
4.) Hamstring stretch
5.) Calf stretch
Yoga is also a great way to wind down from the stresses of the day, but there are so many instructional videos online it can be overwhelming. Why not start out with a few of these poses targeted specifically for people on their feet all day. Let us know how they work for you!
Start from the Ground Up
Of course you also want to make sure you’re wearing comfortable, supportive shoes and that you have a good floor mat to stand on. Most commercial buildings have concrete floors, even if it’s covered up by carpet, and standing on such a hard surface for hours at a time can be damaging to your body.
If you don’t have an anti-fatigue mat at work, reach out to your UFCW representative and let them know. Not sure who your UFCW representative is? Call your local union office. Let them know where you work and that you’re trying to find out who your representative is. Your representative can help advocate on your behalf to management or let you know about workplace protections you may have in your contract.
We know you are busy balancing all the different demands of work and home, but taking a few minutes out of your day to reduce or prevent pain and stiffness can help the rest of your day go a little more smoothly.
In September, two years after medical marijuana was passed into law in New York, workers at Vireo Health ratified their first RWDSU contract. The Vireo Health workers are members of RWDSU Local 338, and this union contract is the first in the history of New York state’s new medical cannabis industry.
The new three-year contract covers workers at Vireo Health’s cultivation and manufacturing facility in Fulton County and at all four of its dispensaries located in Albany, Johnson City (Binghamton), Queens and White Plains. The contract will provide workers with paid time off for holidays, sick days, and vacation, as well as bereavement leave. Workers will receive retirement benefits through an annuity fund that the company is paying for. Full-time workers will also be receiving medical coverage for themselves and their families under the contract. The agreement also includes “profitability milestones” for workers that will kick in as the patient base increases and the company becomes more successful.
“As someone starting a new family, it’s great to have the security and stability of a union contract,” said Vireo Cultivator Matt Denten. “I’m proud to be working in the medical cannabis industry and know that my work is helping patients live meaningful lives. My coworkers and I all agreed that we wanted to be represented by Local 338 to make sure that we were protected as workers and had good benefits and wages.”
“The strong union contract approved by the workers at Vireo will ensure that they have secure, middle class jobs so that they can provide for themselves and their families,” said RWDSU Local 338 President John Durso. “This agreement provides these dedicated workers peace of mind that will allow them to focus on what matters most: helping those who are suffering and creating quality medicine.”
RWDSU Local 338 was at the forefront of the medical marijuana movement in New York state, working with legislators to craft legislation that would help patients and protect workers in the new industry. A bill legalizing the production and sale of marijuana for medical purposes was signed into law in New York in 2014, and in part due to the efforts of Local 338, the medical marijuana companies were required to have labor peace agreements where they wouldn’t interfere with workers’ efforts to join a union.
On July 27, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued citations to Pilgrim’s Pride for nearly two dozen safety and health hazards, including the failure to make medical referrals for workers with workplace injuries in a timely manner. This is the first time a poultry company has been cited for medical mismanagement of work-related injuries.
The UFCW issued the following statement in response to the citations:
“We are disappointed to see yet another example of poultry workers being mistreated and forced to endure harsh working conditions,” said UFCW International President Marc Perrone. “Unions provide poultry workers with one of the best ways to improve their safety on the job because we create an environment where people know their rights and feel empowered to speak up. We make sure that workers can advocate for their well-being without the fear of being fired. As we strive to improve poultry industry jobs, we applaud OSHA for actively supporting the right of every worker to have a safe workplace.”
For some workers, a simple trip to the bathroom could result in the loss of a job.
Poultry-processing workers are sometimes disciplined for taking bathroom breaks while at work because there is no one available to fill in for them if they step away from the production line. Some workers have reported that they wear diapers and restrict liquid intake in an effort to avoid using the bathroom.
No one should have to work under these conditions. All workers have a right to a safe workplace, and that includes access to readily available sanitary restroom facilities on the job.
Luckily, there are very clear standards on this issue: the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires employers to provide all workers with sanitary restrooms and prompt access to the facilities when needed. Further, employers may not impose unreasonable restrictions on employee use of toilet facilities. These standards are intended to ensure that workers do not suffer adverse health effects that can result if toilets are not sanitary or are not available when needed.
Poultry processing is one of the most dangerous industries in the United States, and readily accessible restrooms is only one of many problems that workers in this industry face. OSHA has found workers exposed to serious hazards in poultry processing plants, including exposure to dangerous chemicals and biological hazards, high noise levels,unsafe equipment, and slippery floors.
Poultry workers are twice as likely to suffer serious injuries on the job as other private industry workers and almost seven times more likely to contract a work-related illness. They are also at particularly high risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders from the repetitive motions they perform on the job, with workers twice as likely to have a severe wrist injury and seven times as likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome than the average U.S. worker.
These injuries and illnesses must stop. To protect workers in poultry plants, OSHA launched regional emphasis programs targeting these facilities throughout the Midwest, Southern, and Southeast states. Their goal is to reduce injuries and illnesses through outreach and enforcement activities, such as training sessions, public service announcements and targeted, comprehensive safety and health inspections.
With UFCW representation, these workers also have better odds because they have a voice on the job, and can speak up when they see unsafe conditions without fear of retribution. We often work with OSHA to ensure our poultry workers continue to work at safe jobs.
Last week, the Chicago City Council passed the Earned Sick Leave Ordinance by 48-0, which will extend earned sick leave to over 450,000 workers in Chicago. The ordinance will most dramatically benefit 42 percent of Chicago’s private sector workforce who currently lack paid sick leave. UFCW Local 881 played a big role in the passage of this legislation.
“On behalf of the 8,000 hardworking members of Local 881 UFCW who live and work in every neighborhood of Chicago, I commend the 48 supportive voting members of the Chicago City Council for passing the Earned Sick Leave Ordinance,” said UFCW Local 881 President Ron Powell. “In 2015, voters in every ward of Chicago overwhelmingly supported extending earned sick leave to working families who are one flu season away from losing their job and economic hardship. We are pleased today that the City Council listened to the working people of Chicago! This is a historic step for our city and a victory for workers and our communities.”
UFCW Local 881 was the founding member of the Earned Sick Time Chicago Coalition, a partnership of community, public health, faith, women’s advocacy, and labor organizations that worked together to raise awareness about this issue. The Earned Sick Leave Ordinance takes effect on July 1, 2017.
The workers at the Viscofan plant in Danville, Illinois, deserve safe jobs, they say in a newly launched petition to The Viscofan Group Chairman Jose Domingo de Ampuero y Osma. The workers, who are members of UFCW Local 686, and their families shouldn’t have to worry whether their loved ones will come home in one piece when they return from work each day.
After a successful year, Viscofan has seen positive growth, which is centered on the work done by these members and others in North America. But as company sales and profits increase, the workers say they are being hurt by the plant. The Danville plant had 18 violations of U.S. health and safety law in the last seven years, yet Viscofan has refused union proposals to improve the safety of their workplace.
These Local 686 members are now asking supporters to sign their petition that says the company’s success shouldn’t come at the expense of the health and safety of its workers. The Viscofan plant is an integral part of the Danville community and its workers count on the good, safe, family-supporting jobs it provides. They are asking the company to send its negotiators back to the table with an edict to make the plant safer, the community stronger, and share in the success. Click here to sign the petition.
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Some of the participants in the training pose with their completion certificates.
This past Saturday, UFCW Local 1189, the UFCW Occupational Safety and Health Department and the Greater Minnesota Workers’ Center hosted a workers’ rights training session for unorganized poultry workers in St. Cloud, Minn. The training was focused on giving unorganized workers tools to stand up for a safe workplaces and helping them build common ground with workers of different cultural backgrounds. More than 70 workers from a variety of plants came out for the training, which was simultaneously conducted in English, Spanish and Somali.
“I am really glad I came to this training with the Somali people,” said one Spanish-speaking worker during the comment portion of the training. “I tried to get my friends to come with me but they were too afraid. I am not afraid. I know we can work together to change our workplace and make it better for everyone.”