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.