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UFCW: Safety of Food and Workers Must Come First in USDA Pork Plant Evaluation After Line Speed Court Ruling

May 25, 2021

Butcher cutting meat on the Food Processing Plant

America’s Largest Union for Pork Workers Slams Industry Safety Failures, Urges USDA to Prioritize Worker and Food Safety as Agency Evaluates Plants After Court Throws Out Trump-Era Line Speed Rule

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, United Food and Commercial Workers International (UFCW) , which represents over 250,000 workers in meatpacking plants and food processing plants, called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to respect a March 2021 federal district court ruling that found the Trump Administration acted unlawfully when it eliminated limits on the pork plant line speeds, without considering the increased risk of injury to workers. The federal lawsuit was led by UFCW International and Public Citizen, along with UFCW Local 663 in MinnesotaUFCW Local 440 in Iowa, and UFCW Local 2 in Kansas.

UFCW International President Marc Perrone released the following statement:

“America’s essential workers in pork plants across the country have put their health and safety at risk every day during this pandemic to help families put food on the table. The Trump USDA’s dangerous rule allowed pork plants to push workers to the breaking point with unsafe line speeds that increase their risk of injury and put the safety of our food supply in jeopardy.

“The federal district court recognized that the USDA was required to consider worker safety and failed to do so. Safety always must come first with our country’s food supply chain. As the union for our nation’s frontline pork plant workers, UFCW is urging the USDA to respect the district court’s ruling and conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the impact of increased line speeds on worker safety. The USDA must evaluate these worker safety risks before allowing pork plants to exceed the line speeds they were allowed to operate at through 2019.

“UFCW is calling on every company in the pork industry to slow their line speeds so that we can keep our food supply secure and protect the brave men and women who produce the high-quality American-made pork that so many families rely on every day. ”

BACKGROUND:

The March 2021 federal district court ruling was issued in United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local No. 663 v. U.S. Department of Agriculture, in which Public Citizen Litigation Group represented four UFCW locals and UFCW International, which represents 33,000 workers in the pork processing industry.

The court held that USDA acted arbitrarily and capriciously when it refused to consider the impact of eliminating line speeds on worker health and safety in a rule it issued creating the “New Swine Inspection System” (NSIS) in October 2019. The court also rejected the meatpacking industry’s arguments that increased line speeds do not put workers at increased risk of harm, citing mounds of evidence showing a relationship between high speeds and musculoskeletal injuries, lacerations, and amputations.

The court vacated the provision of NSIS that eliminates line speed limits but placed its order on hold for 90 days to allow USDA time to develop a plan with respect to those plants that have converted to NSIS.

COVID NUMBERS: UFCW recently confirmed that COVID-19 continues to threaten essential food workers nationwide, reporting that among the union’s members nationwide, there have already been at least:

  • 462 frontline worker deaths and 93,300 frontline workers infected or exposed
  • 184 grocery worker deaths and 41,700 grocery workers infected or exposed
  • 132 meatpacking worker deaths and 22,290 meatpacking workers infected or exposed
  • 60 food processing worker deaths and 11,700 food processing workers infected or exposed

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UFCW is the largest private sector union in the United States, representing 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.