May 9, 2017
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.
“OSHA’s severe injury data shines a light on the severe toll of preventable workplace injuries, especially in the U.S. poultry industry,” said Debbie Berkowitz, senior fellow for worker safety and health with NELP and the report’s lead author. “The workers who put food on our tables should not have to sacrifice their health for a paycheck.”
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.
In 2016, the UFCW was a vocal supporter of OSHA’s decision to issue a citation to Pilgrim’s Pride, only the second citation of its kind in the agency’s 47-year history. “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. “As we strive to improve poultry industry jobs, we applaud OSHA for actively supporting the right of every worker to have a safe workplace.”
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.”
May 30, 2012
Several of our UFCW members who work in meatpacking, poultry and food processing plants spend their days working around refrigeration systems that use ammonia – a Highly Hazardous chemical. It is easy and important for stewards to find out if their company is complying with OSHA’s standards about how to operate safely with Highly Hazardous chemicals. The main standard is Process Safety Management (PSM). PSM gives workers and their representatives the right to ask for information about the ammonia system.
OSHA’s PSM Standard applies to most meat packing, poultry, and food processing plants. One PSM requirement is that the company must conduct an audit of their compliance every three years. Stewards can request to see the recommendations from the past two audits and find out what actions have been taken. By looking at the audit results and the follow-up stewards can see if the company is taking their PSM seriously.
“When I was sent out for training, I received a lot of information about PSM that I realized could be helpful to not only me, but also my co-workers at the plant,” said Jim Oldenburg, a steward at JBS and a member of UFCW Local 1473 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Even though every worker at the plant cannot receive specialized PSM training, workers do have the right to stay informed about their plant’s PSM program and come to their stewards with questions or concerns. To help his co-workers at the plant, Oldenburg submitted a list of PSM questions and responses to the company. These questions were developed by the Industrial Refrigeration Consortium at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.
“People look to me to help them and I’m doing everything that I can for them every day. Having this information available is just one of them,” said Oldenburg.
Here are the ten questions Jim submitted to management. According to the PSM standard your company must respond adequately to your concerns. Their responses to these questions can give you a sense of the condition of your plant’s ammonia safety program. If you need help evaluating the company’s response you can email the UFCW Health and Safety Representative for Process Safety Management at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. When was our last compliance audit?
2. Can you show me the closeout of recommendations from the last compliance audit?
3. Can you provide me a copy of the most recent incident report and documentation that shows how we closed out recommendations/from the incident report?
4. When was our last Process Hazard Analysis (PHA) conducted and can you show me documentation that closes out the recommendations from the last PHA?
5. How often do we certify our plant’s written operating procedures for the covered process?
6. What training program do we have for our operators and what are the means used to verify they have understood the training?
7. How often do we do refresher training?
8. Based on our plant’s mechanical integrity program, what is the next piece of equipment scheduled for retirement and when is it scheduled to come out of service?
9. What criteria do we use to evaluate contractors that work on our covered process?
10. What was the last change made to our system and can you show me the documentation for that change?
May 8, 2012
WASHINGTON – The almost $600,000 settlement announced Monday between the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and DeMoulas Super Markets Inc., commonly known as Market Basket, is a step forward for the safety of retail workers everywhere. The settlement requires safety fixes at all of the companys more than 60 stores across Massachusetts and New Hampshire, along with real safety programs for workers going forward.
Its critical that OSHA continues to take company-wide actions like these to protect workers, said Jackie Nowell, Director of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Occupational Safety and Health Office. Rather than addressing problems with employers like Market Basket piecemeal and leaving workers at risk OSHA can make real changes to systematic problems that occur across an entire company.
The enforcement action came after repeat safety violations by the company including two serious injuries to Market Basket workers in almost-identical falls from unguarded storage areas in two different stores. Workers at Market Basket dont have a union at their work, making it harder to stand up for safer stores.
This new enforcement program clearly shows that when OSHA finally gets tough with bad-actor employers, workers get better protection far faster than waiting on empty promises by corporate executives to comply with our basic safety laws, said Nowell. We hope the Obama Administration will continue using these new tools to give all workers especially the many retail workers who dont yet have a union a safe place to work.
April 20, 2012
WASHINGTON, D.C.–Joe Hansen, International President of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), released the following statement regarding the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) decision to extend the comment period on its proposed poultry inspection rule.
“The UFCW applauds Secretary Tom Vilsack’s decision to extend the comment period on USDA’s proposed poultry inspection rule in order to further study its impact on worker safety. We have said all along that this rule should be halted until it is proven that increased line speeds are safe for workers. The UFCW will use this 30-day extension to work directly with USDA, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the Obama Administration to determine a course of action to study the probable effects of increased line speeds on worker health and safety. Today is a victory for all poultry workers who can rest assured that their safety on the job is being taken seriously.”
April 11, 2012
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.
April 28, 2011
Today, on Workers’ Memorial Day, the UFCW will join workers in the U.S. and around the world to honor the thousands of workers who have been killed on the job and the millions of workers who have suffered from injuries, sickness or diseases in their places of work. This year’s memorial day marks the 40th anniversary of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the right of workers to a safe workplace, as well as the 100th anniversary of one of the worst workplace disasters to take place in our country.
One hundred years ago, on March 25, 1911, a fire spread through the cramped floors of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City. When the workers—mostly young female immigrants—tried to escape, they encountered locked doors and broken fire escapes. Rather than be burned alive, the workers began jumping out of windows and fell to their deaths on the street below as bystanders watched in horror. That terrible tragedy, which took the lives of 146 workers, served as a catalyst for major labor reforms and changed the way we work and live.
A century later, the fight to protect workers continues amid anti-union legislation that is sweeping though the country. Just three years ago, managers at the Imperial Sugar Company in Port Wentworth, Georgia—one of the few non-union plants in the industry—tolerated dirty and dangerous worksite conditions, and 15 workers without a collective voice died in a massive fire and explosion. Twenty years ago, 25 poultry workers at the Imperial Foods plant in Hamlet, North Carolina, were locked inside by their bosses and died in a horrible fire. Like the Triangle workers, they had no other voice to demand safety. Indeed, we just saw the worst mining disaster in 40 years, as the executives at the Massey coal mine in Montcoal, West Virginia, told their subordinates to put production first before any other job duties. Surviving workers testified to the rampant fear that effectively suppressed complaints in a company that had viciously opposed unions for decades.
The right to a safe workplace was won after decades of struggle by workers and their unions. On Workers’ Memorial Day, we honor and pay tribute to the men and women who died at Imperial Sugar, Imperial Foods, Massey Energy and all the other dangerous workplaces. In their memory, we renew our commitment to preventing such tragedies by supporting workers who are struggling to protect their basic rights–including safe jobs, workplace fairness, collective bargaining, freedom from discrimination and favoritism.
June 9, 2010
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The following is a statement from Jackie Nowell, Director of Occupational Safety and Health at the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union:
A year ago today – June 9, 2009 – it was a warm afternoon in Garner, North Carolina when a powerful explosion leveled the ConAgra Foods plant. A tragic error in judgment while installing a new water heater led an outside contractor to repeatedly release natural gas from a pipe into an enclosed room near the center of the building and an unknown spark set it ablaze.
The resulting explosion and toxic ammonia release killed four people and injured 70 others. It was a preventable tragedy that destroyed lives, livelihoods and a community of friends and neighbors. The United Food and Commercial Workers represented the more than 300 ConAgra workers affected by the blast and saw first-hand the devastation caused by this explosion.
Conflagrations like this one killed and injured workers from Missouri to Michigan, and yet no regulations existed to prevent contractors from purging gas lines into closed spaces. Working with authorities and experts from across the country we set about to change this. Our fight became marked by even greater urgency after five workers were killed in yet another gas purging explosion in Connecticut that February.
Along with the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, who investigated this explosion, we urged the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) – who provides safety codes for building contractors across the country – to adopt regulations that would prevent contractors from purging explosive gasses into enclosed spaces. But after heavy lobbying from the natural gas and propane industries, the NFPA wilted like old lettuce and failed to stand for the safety of America’s workers.
So here we are, one year later. The plant in Garner rather is scheduled to close, bringing a second round of devastation to the community. We know we can’t bring back these workers, these friends, these family members back to their community and their loved ones. The broken system at the NFPA has failed to learn from these tragedies and has bowed to industry pressure to let these deadly indoor gas purges continue unregulated.
This is frankly unacceptable. As Debra Petteway, a Food and Commercial Workers member who worked in the ConAgra plant and lost her son to the explosion said, “Louis Watson was my son, he was my only son, and now he’s gone. They didn’t have to die, and if someone doesn’t fix this, it’s going to happen again.”
Ms. Petteway is right. The NFPA, who is supposed to protect workers like her son, has shirked their duty.
So one year later, the “experts” charged with protecting America’s workers have failed to learn from this tragedy or from the legions before or after. How much longer will we wait with no regulatory or legislative action for the safety of American workers? The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and our legislators must not wait for these quasi-governmental regulatory bodies to demonstrate their craven kowtowing to industry demands any longer. We need comprehensive legislative or OSHA regulation so that the lessons of those who gave their lives in these explosions are not forgotten and all those that come later are protected from a similar fate.
May 11, 2010
With rising temperatures and increased consumer demand, grocery stores, supermarkets, pharmacies, and the warehouses that supply them are moving and selling ever-increasing volumes of bottled water. When palletized, these products can pose significant risks to workers in our industry as a recent deadly tragedy illustrates.
In mid-March, a Kroger employee working in the back room of a store in Franklin, Ind. was crushed by falling pallets of water. Five days after the accident, the employee died. The Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigated the accident and fined Kroger $17,000 for unsafe working conditions. This tragic incident and others like it are preventable – especially if UFCW members and locals take action for safety today.
When you are at work or a worksite, here are some things to look for:
- Don’t transport double stacked pallets beyond the distance necessary to remove them from a truck. Double-stacked pallets are inherently unstable, and when they have liquids (like bottled water) as cargo, they often exceed the safe weight limits for forklifts.
- Avoid double stacking pallets when storing them.
- Carefully monitor the stability of pallets at all times.
- Don’t attempt to straighten pallets that have begun to shift. Unload the pallet instead.
- Maintain a clear safety area around pallets when they are being moved.
- All forklift operators or other powered-equipment operators must be trained and certified. This is an OSHA requirement – check for proper recordkeeping.
Palletized bottled water is especially dangerous because of the high volume moved, the heavy weight involved, and increasingly thin plastic causing cases to be unstable. In addition, the limited amount of floor space in the back of grocery stores often leads to water or other heavy unstable products, being stacked higher than safety permits.
Kroger and UFCW Indiana locals have learned from the tragic accident in Franklin and are actively working to prevent future injuries or deaths. We urge you to do the same before something similar happens in your stores.
April 8, 2010
Safety is one of the most important issues at any plant. Preventing injuries at the workplace is about identifying hazards and getting them fixed, and stewards play a particularly important role in making sure this happens.
Many workers are already familiar with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a division within the U.S. Department of Labor that sets and enforces safety standards in the workplace.
These standards are the law and employers are required to comply with them. Among these requirements is the OSHA Form 300. Most employers with 10 or more full-time employees are required to file this form, which is a yearly log of work-related injuries.
Miguel Luna, a steward from UFCW Local 2, works in a plant in Guymon, Okla. He has been an active member of his plant’s safety committee for more than four years.
“I joined the safety committee to help to keep my coworkers safe. Together with other members, we have helped to improve safety at the plant. The OSHA 300 logs are fundamental for our mission. They help a lot,” Luna said.
OSHA mandates that employers record all new cases of work-related fatalities, injuries and illnesses if they involve death, time away from work, restricted work, transfer from another job, medical treatment beyond first aid, loss of consciousness, or a significant injury or illness diagnosed by a physician or other licensed health care professional.
“An OSHA 300 log is where companies record the injuries that occur at the workplace,” said Luna. “By law, they have to report all the injuries to OSHA.”
The OSHA law gives workers and their unions the right to have access to injury logs.
Stewards, workers, and supervisors can use the OSHA 300 logs to help to improve safety in a food processing or meatpacking plant.
“At our plant, our safety committee meets once a month. We talk about how to improve safety at our plant,” said Luna. “The OSHA logs are very useful for those
of us on the committee, because we can see if we need to improve safety in one area or if we can do something different.”
Luna added that there have been several instances when the OSHA logs have helped the committee to improve safety at the plant.
“For example, if we see in the logs that many injuries are occurring on the line due to an ergonomic issue, then we look into what is causing that issue, we investigate, and once we have reached a conclusion, we meet with the plant’s safety director,” he said.
Unfortunately, in some instances, workplace injuries are being under-counted. This year OSHA has enacted an enforcement program to review the logs and make certain that employers record all injuries.
Luna said that stewards play an important role in making sure employers keep the log current.
“As stewards, we have to review the logs to make sure injuries are being recorded in an accurate and proper way,” he said. “I recommend that stewards stay on top of things and check the logs on a regular basis.”
He said that if a steward suspects that an injury has been inaccurately reported in the OSHA logs, the best way to solve any discrepancy is to talk to the injured worker, get the facts, and talk to the plant’s safety manager or supervisors to try to clarify the issues.
For Luna, the most important thing to do if an injury occurs is to make sure that the affected worker fully recovers.
“Stewards should check back with the injured worker and follow up throughout his or her recovery. We have to support each other and that means making sure injured workers get the proper treatment,” he added.
December 8, 2009
The U.S. Senate has confirmed David Michaels as the new OSHA Administrator.
Michaels was nominated by President Obama earlier this year. He is an epidemiologist and professor at the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services. He has conducted many studies on the occupational exposure to toxic chemicals, and has served as assistant secretary of energy for Environment, Safety and Health.
This is the first time, since the previous administrator’s resignation in 2008 that OSHA once again has a permanent administrator.