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UFCW: As COVID Meatpacking Risks Continue, Congress Must Pass New Bill Mandating Safer Line Speeds to Protect Essential Workers Keeping Food Supply Secure

March 11, 2021 Updated: March 18, 2021

Meat packing plant members.

America’s Largest Meatpacking Union Endorses New Bill from Senator Cory Booker and Rep. Rosa DeLauro to Require Safer Production Speeds in Plants, Strengthening COVID Safety Measures to Protect Workers

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), which represents 1.3 million workers in meatpacking and other frontline industries, announced its support for new legislation from U.S. Senator Cory Booker (New Jersey) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (Connecticut) that will suspend increases in line speeds at meatpacking plants and strengthen protections for thousands of America’s essential workers in these facilities who continue to face the risk of COVID-19 exposure on the frontlines of the pandemic.

UFCW International President Marc Perrone released the following statement:

“America’s meatpacking and food processing workers are putting their health on the line every day to ensure our families can put food on the table as this pandemic continues. These hard-working men and women of America’s meatpacking industry deserve safe workplaces.

“Today’s introduction of the Safe Line Speeds in COVID-19 Act by Senator Booker and Representative DeLauro is a critical step toward strengthening protections in these plants. Simply put, slower line speeds help to keep workers safe from injuries and ensure safe social distancing to stop the spread of COVID-19. 

“As these essential workers continue to serve on the frontlines of this pandemic, all Members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats, must commit to putting safety first by passing this critical legislation that will strengthen vital protections for the brave men and women in meatpacking plants who are helping to keep our food supply secure during this crisis.”

BACKGROUND:

UFCW, the top union for American meatpacking workers, has been a leading national voice for strengthening safeguards in these plants, which have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

UFCW reports that COVID-19 continues to threaten frontline food workers across the country, with 398 frontline worker deaths and over 79,900 frontline workers infected or exposed. This includes at least 132 meatpacking worker deaths and over 22,000 meatpacking workers infected or exposed to the virus.

Meatpacking Plant Regulation

The USDA regulates meatpacking line speed in plants across the United States for both worker safety and to allow for food inspection. Current line speeds in poultry plants are 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.

In 2019, the Modernization of Swine Slaughter Inspection rule removed all limitations on pork plant line speeds, which endangered the health and safety of tens of thousands of workers nationwide. 

Union and Legislative Action

The UFCW and Public Citizen have filed a lawsuit to stop this dangerous practice in poultry plants and prevent further line speed waivers in the industry. UFCW filed a similar lawsuit with Public Citizen to block the pork plant line speed increases.

Senator Cory Booker along with Representative DeLauro have reintroduced “The Safe Line Speeds in COVID-19 Act” to ensure that USDA protects worker safety by ending this practice.

About the Safe Line Speeds in COVID–19 Act

The Safe Line Speeds in COVID–19 Act would: 

  • Direct the Secretary of Agriculture to suspend existing waivers and not issue any waivers related to line speeds at meat and poultry establishments during the pandemic;
  • Suspend the implementation of, and conversion to, the New Swine Slaughter Inspection System;
  • Prevent the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) from spending funds to develop, propose, finalize, issue, amend, or implement any policy, regulation, directive, constituent update, or any other agency program that would increase line speeds during the COVID-19 emergency period; and 
  • Require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to issue a report after the COVID-19 emergency is over that reviews the actions taken by the USDA and Department of Labor and Department of Health and Human Services in response to the pandemic to determine the action’s effectiveness in protecting animal, food, and worker safety. 

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UFCW International is 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