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America’s Meatpacking Union Demands Trump Admin. Stop Policy Endangering Poultry Workers on Frontlines of COVID-19 Pandemic

November 12, 2020

Pilgrim's Pride, JBS Texas Worksite

USDA’s Renewed Effort to Raise Line Speed Limits is a Reckless Corporate Giveaway As Union Reports 128 Meatpacking Worker Deaths and 19,800 Meatpacking Workers Infected or Exposed to COVID-19

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), America’s food and retail union with 1.3 million workers, announced its opposition to the latest attempt by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to increase line speeds in poultry plants across America. This latest threat to workers from the Trump Administration comes as COVID-19 cases skyrocket across the country and further endanger meatpacking workers on the frontlines.

UFCW International President Marc Perrone released the following statement:

“This new push by the Trump Administration to increase poultry line speeds makes clear that this White House cares more about corporate profits than the safety of workers. 

“America’s meatpacking workers are still on the frontlines of the pandemic putting themselves in harm’s way to keep our country’s food supply chain secure, even as COVID-19 cases skyrocket across the country. Slower line speeds protect workers from injuries and ensure safe social distancing to stop the spread of virus. With poultry line speeds already moving at a breathtaking pace, any effort to increase these speeds is a direct threat to worker safety.

“As the union for America’s meatpacking workers, UFCW is calling on the Trump Administration to immediately stop this increase to poultry production speeds. 

“In the months ahead, UFCW will urge President-elect Joe Biden to reverse the Trump Administration’s dangerous policies and do all he can to protect America’s meatpacking workers still on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Background:

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 today reported that COVID-19 continues to threaten frontline food workers across the country, with internal union estimates confirming at least 275 food worker deaths and more than 42,200 food workers infected or exposed. This includes at least 128 meatpacking worker deaths and over 19,800 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 set at 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 (D-NJ) and Representative Marcia Fudge (D-OH) have introduced “The Safe Line Speeds in COVID-19 Act” to ensure that USDA protects worker safety by maintaining safe line speeds.

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UFCW International, the largest private sector union in the United States. UFCW International represents 1.3 million professionals and their families in healthcare, grocery stores, meatpacking, food processing, retail shops and other industries. Our members serve our communities in all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico. Learn more about the UFCW at ufcw.org.