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    Packing and Processing

July 28, 2008

UFCW Calls on OSHA to Issue a Combustile Dust Standard

Washington, D.C. –  OSHA’s proposed fines of $8.7 million for violations at the Imperial Sugar plant near Savannah, Georgia, where an explosion killed 13 workers in February, and at another plant in Gramercy, Louisiana, magnify the gaps in current OSHA enforcement standards with regard to combustible dust, including a reliance on “general duty” citations and a patchwork of other standards which are limited in scope and do not address such critical considerations as design, maintenance, hazard review and explosion protection.  This action also underscores OSHA’s reluctance to follow the recommendations of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) that may have prevented the tragedy in Georgia and other combustible dust explosions.

The fines also expose OSHA’s inability to monitor the actions of big businesses such as Imperial Sugar.  The explosion in Georgia took place on February 7; however, OSHA inspectors found that the company had not taken immediate steps to mitigate another potential disaster when they inspected the plant in Louisiana a month later.

Earlier this year, the UFCW and the Teamsters called on OSHA to issue an emergency standard on combustible dust, and filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Labor demanding that OSHA follow the 2006 recommendations of the CSB, an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents.

In 2006, the CSB recommended that OSHA issue a rule that would have reduced the possibility of combustible dust explosions.  That year, the CSB conducted a major study of combustible dust hazards, and noted that a quarter of the explosions that occureed between 1980 and 2005 that were identified, occurred at food industry facilities, including sugar refineries.  In only one or two investigations were these incidents caused by mechanical mysteries that were either unforeseen or unpredicted.

Standards and codes have existed for years for OSHA to build upon and eliminate this type of explosion.  In 1987, OSHA issued the Grain Handling Facilities Standard as the result of grain dust explosions in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  This standard has effectively reduced the number and severity of combustible grain dust explosions in the grain handling industry, but stopped short of regulating combustible dust in industries outside of the grain industry.

The UFCW applauds the U.S. House of Representatives for passing legislation to force OSHA to set a combustible dust standard, and urges President Bush to reconsider his veto threat.  OSHA must act now and follow the recommendations of the CSB before more workers are killed or horribly injured.

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The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) represents more than 1.3 million workers, primarily in the retail and meatpacking, food processing and poultry industries. The UFCW protects the rights of workers and strengthens America’s middle class by fighting for health care reform, immigration reform, living wages, retirement security, safe working conditions and the right to unionize so that working men and women and their families can realize the American Dream. For more information about the UFCW’s effort to protect workers’ rights and strengthen America’s middle class, visit www.ufcw.org.

July 19, 2008

CASE FARMS POULTRY WORKERS FORCED TO WITHHOLD THEIR LABOR

(Winesburg, Ohio) More than one hundred frustrated poultry workers walked off the job at Case Farms poultry plant yesterday in a fight for living wages and respect on the job. Over a year ago these same workers chose United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 880 to be their voice on the job and to bargain a fair and living wage for them.
After months of hard bargaining and despite the best efforts of a Federal Mediator, Case Farms refused to budge from its tiny economic offer that would pay them less than their non-union counterparts in North Carolina who do the same work.  Faced with this unreasonable and unfair position, the workers voted overwhelmingly (294-12) to reject the offer and to withhold their labor.
Despite this clear message, the company continued to stonewall in negotiations. A privately owned company, Case Farms has decided to make non-union status and profits for owner more important than paying a fair and living wage to its Winesburg workers. After the company committed numerous alleged unfair labor practices, the workers decided that they were left with no choice, that the company had no interest in treating them fairly, and that the only thing they could do was withhold their labor until the company decided to be fair to them.
Chicken is the number one meat product in the U.S. yet Case Farms is paying its dedicated workforce a paltry $8.10 per hour, on average, which translates into an annual income of $16,000 — 20% below the federal poverty level for a family of four.
Poultry processing is one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. The dangerous conditions faced by workers in the poultry industry have been documented by academics, the media and the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Poultry workers typically perform physically demanding, repetitive work, during which they stand for long periods of time at fast moving production lines while using ultra-sharp knives and scissors. Working in extreme temperatures they often make up to 40,000 repetitive cutting motions per shift.
In addition to the plant in Winesburg, OH, Case Farms operates poultry plants in Morganton and Goldsboro North Carolina. Case has a history of forcing workers to withhold their labor in order to achieve fair treatment by management.
The UFCW International Union represents more than 1.3 million members in the U.S. and Canada, including 250,000 workers in the poultry and meatpacking industries. UFCW Local 880 represents more than 22,000 workers across Northern Ohio including supermarket workers and food processing workers.
April 23, 2008

IMPRESS USA, Inc. WORKERS IN BLOOMSBURG RATIFY NEW CONTRACT

Milton, PA—United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local #38 announces the successful ratification of a new three-year contract with Impress USA, Inc. at their plant located in Bloomsburg, PA. Approximately 145 workers at this location make metal food cans for Del Monte, Simmons, and Suter food companies, among others. The new contract delivers wage increases and vacation improvements, maintains affordable health care, and makes significant improvements in overtime pay. A majority voted to ratify the contract on Sunday, April 20.

Highlights of the new agreement:

–Wages for current employees will increase by 3 ½ % per year over the term of the agreement.

–Employees will now be able to use up to 2 weeks of vacation in single day increments. Employees can earn two days of vacation for perfect attendance. Workers will be allowed to carry up to three days over to the following year, or have the days paid out.

–Employees keep affordable health care coverage with only modest increases in their premiums and no plan changes.

–The contract provides the following overtime improvements and protections:

— Workers will be paid double time on the 6th and 7th day for any work over 60 hours.

— Workers will be paid double time on the 7th day for work over 48 hours.

— When workers volunteer to work or are forced to work overtime three times in one pay period, the company cannot force them to work any more overtime in that pay period.

— When workers volunteer to work six consecutive days of overtime, then the company cannot force them to work more overtime for six days.

UFCW Local 38 represents over 1500 workers in the Milton and Bloomsburg areas. Local President Russ Baker credits the strong work ethic of the membership at the Bloomsburg Plant as the main reason the contract passed. “”Both sides recognized that it takes a cooperative effort in today’s business climate to achieve fair and balanced labor agreements,”” Baker said. I know that both the UFCW and Impress USA, Inc. hope for continued success in Bloomsburg for many years to come.””

April 15, 2008

CARGILL WORKERS IN ALBERT LEA, MN RATIFY NEW CONTRACT

Albert Lea, MN-Three hundred workers in Cargill Meat Solutions’ Albert Lea plant (formerly Schweigert Foods) have ratified a new contract which delivers wage increases, establishes a defined benefit pension plan, and makes tremendous improvements in health care-at a significant savings for workers. The workers are members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 6 and work at the meat processing plant making lunch meats, bratwursts, chicken tenders and chicken wings among other products. A majority voted to ratify the contract on Sunday, April 13, 2008.

The new contract:

–Delivers wage increases including $1.40/hr increase over the next four years-including $0.50 on January 5, 2009. The increase will bring the base rate to $13.20 by the end of the contract.

-Vastly improves health care, dental care, and prescription drug coverage. The 2008 Cargill plan will reduce individual and family deductibles; reduce the amount paid for coinsurance; reduce co-pays for preventive care; reduce co-pays for and office visits for primary care physicians and specialists; reduce the amount paid for emergency room care; lower the maximum for out of pocket expenses; eliminate the deductible and reduces co-pays for prescription drugs; and enhances the affordable family dental plan.

–Improves retirement security by establishing a new defined benefit pension plan. The plan ensures a guaranteed income of $22.50 per month, per year of service for retirees. In 2011, that amount will increase to $25.00 per month per year. Employees will still be able to make contributions to their existing 401(k) plan.

“”We are very pleased with this contract,”” says Pat Neilon, President of UFCW Local 6. “”We were able to negotiate an enormously better health plan, with significant cost savings for our members. And, the new defined benefit pension plan will be better for our members because it guarantees income in retirement and it doesn’t take any money out of workers’ pockets.”” Previously, Cargill workers could choose to contribute to a 401(k) plan with 2% company match, but only a quarter of employees took advantage of the plan.

“”With the union, we were able to negotiate a pension plan-which is especially good for the younger folks who have a chance to put a lot of years in-and you don’t have to fund it yourself out of your paycheck,”” said Richard Peterson, a 30-year employee of the Albert Lea plant. “”Not too many companies offer a pension anymore. But the pension is guaranteed and I think that’s a big deal.””

April 1, 2008

Change to Win Testifies Before Congress on Dangerous Patterns of Abuse by Large Corporate Employers

Safety Expert and Poultry Worker to Address Failures of Large Corporations to Protect Health and Safety of Workers In the Workplace

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Change to Win Health and Safety coordinator Eric Frumin and United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) member Doris Morrow will testify as witnesses at a Senate hearing tomorrow to address the dangerous pattern of large corporations ignoring or avoiding their obligations to insure a safe workplace. The testimony will focus on serious violations at BP, McWane Corp., Cintas Corp., House of Raeford, AgriProcessors, Waste Management Inc., and Avalon Bay.

“Employers bear the primary responsibility for protecting workers, but too often, companies would rather squeeze out extra profit than save employees’ lives,” said Frumin. “The price paid by fallen workers, their families and their communities is unacceptable, and without stronger laws and enforcement, the tragic human cost of hazardous jobs continues to climb.”

As evidence shows, large corporations make calculated decisions to cut corners and disregard the risk of injury or illness to their workers in order to maximize profits. As a result, every day, sixteen workers die on the job, 134 die from work-related illnesses, and thousands more sustain workplace injuries.

Tyson poultry worker and UFCW Local 227 member Doris Morrow, who has worked at the Tyson poultry plant in Kentucky for nearly 12 years, will testify about the health and safety problems she has witnessed first hand at her workplace. Tyson is one of the largest poultry processing companies in the United States.

“There are serious safety and health problems that must be addressed to protect workers across the country,” said Morrow. “I have seen first hand the injuries of my coworkers from respiratory problems like bronchitis and pneumonia due to the cold temperatures in the plants, to back and muscular problems, sore hands, carpal tunnel and other Musculoskeletal Disorders that workers face. Yet, many of the workers in plants are afraid to complain about the work conditions because they are fearful they will lose their jobs. It is time to demand that the government and companies protect workers and prevent these injuries.”

The hearing will also address the failures of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to investigate and remedy corporate-wide health and safety violations as a result of ineffective enforcement tools and inadequate resources. At present staffing levels, it would take OSHA 133 years to inspect every workplace under its jurisdiction. It has also been hampered by political appointees who are indifferent or hostile to the agency’s mission, and hamstrung by limits on its legal authority and available enforcement tools.

“Under the current regulatory structure, corporations make the profits while workers pay the price with their lives. Congress needs to pass the Protecting America’s Workers Act to increase penalties for egregious violations and enhance OSHA’s capacity to conduct corporate-wide investigations and impose corporate-wide sanctions,” said Frumin. “America’s working families know all too well what will happen if we don’t strengthen OSHA – more workers will die because of exposure to well-documented hazards and slipshod site management, more workers will suffer crippling injuries from high production pressures and poor ergonomics and more companies will go unpunished even when knowingly putting workers in harm’s way. The time to act is now.”

The Employment and Workplace Safety Subcommittee hearing “Serious OSHA Violations: Strategies for Breaking Dangerous Problems” will be held Tuesday, April 1, 2008 at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 430.

>>>Testimony of Doris Morrow

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About Change to Win
Change to Win is a six million member partnership of seven unions founded in 2005 to represent workers in the industries and occupations of the 21st century economy. Change to Win committed to restoring the American Dream for a new generation of workers – wages that can support a family, affordable health care, a secure retirement, and the opportunity for the future. The seven affiliated unions are: Service Employees International Union, UNITE HERE, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Laborers’ International Union of North AmericaUnited Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America and United Farm Workers of America.

March 25, 2008

EMERGENCY PETITION ASSAILS OSHA

Washington, D.C. – Leading worker organizations today called on the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue an emergency standard on combustible dust.  The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Labor demanding that OSHA follow the 2006 recommendations of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB).  Additional labor organizations representing workers at risk are also supporting the petition which was filed in reaction to a workplace explosion at a sugar refinery in Georgia on February 7.
 
The explosion at the Imperial Sugar plant near Savannah, Georgia, resulted in the deaths of nine workers.  Scores of workers were also injured in the blast, and one worker is still missing.  Reports indicate that combustible dust may be implicated in this explosion, as has been the case in previous food plant explosions.

With the goal of protecting workers from combustible dust explosions and resulting fires,  the UFCW and International Brotherhood of Teamsters petition calls upon OSHA to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard which requires immediate controls instituted by employers where combustible dust hazards exist.  The petition also calls upon OSHA to put a new Permanent Standard in place for control of combustible dust hazards in general industry; inspect sugar processing plants; and implement a Special Emphasis Program on combustible dust hazards in a wide range of industries where combustible dust hazards exist.

The UFCW represents hundreds of workers in sugar plants around the country, including the Domino Sugar plant in Baltimore, Maryland.  UFCW members at the Domino plant narrowly escaped harm last November after a combustible dust explosion rocked the facility.  The International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents nearly 500 members who are employed at eight sugar processing facilities throughout the United States.

The Bush Administration’s OSHA ignored the 2006 recommendation from the CSB to issue a rule that would have reduced the possibility of the explosion in Georgia and other combustible dust explosions.  That year, the CSB conducted a major study of combustible dust hazards following three worksite dust explosions that killed 14 workers in 2003.  The CSB report noted that a quarter of the explosions between 1980 and 2005 occurred at food industry facilities, including sugar plants.

OSHA’s inaction on this workplace risk follows a pattern of the agency ignoring scientific evidence and its own rule-making guidelines.  By law, OSHA was supposed to respond to the CSB’s recommendations within six months. 

In 1987, OSHA issued the Grain Handling Facilities Standard as the result of grain dust explosions in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  This standard has effectively reduced the number and severity of combustible grain dust explosions in the grain handling industry.  However, the Grain Handling Facilities Standard stopped short of regulating combustible dust in industries outside of the grain industry. 
 
The UFCW and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters join Representatives George Miller and Lynne Woolsey in the call for immediate OSHA inspections of all sugar-producing facilities.

UPDATE: COMBUSTIBLE DUST SAFETY ALERT

January 31, 2008

UFCW AND CONSUMER ADVOCATES TO VOICE CONCERNS AT USDA

Washington, D.C. – The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) will join consumer advocates at public meetings on February 5-6 to oppose the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (USDA FSIS) proposal to water down workplace safety and food inspection regulations at the nation’s poultry slaughter establishments. The proposal, entitled “”Public Health-Based Slaughter Inspection System”” (PHBSIS), will remove maximum line speed regulations and further subject poultry workers to dangerous workplace conditions. The proposed system also increases the risk of food-borne illnesses by weakening the on-line poultry inspection process.

The dangerous work conditions faced by workers in the poultry industry have been documented by academics, the media and the U.S. Government Accountability Office, and line speeds have been linked to musculoskeletal disorders and debilitating injuries—including lacerations and amputations. Poultry workers often face physically demanding, repetitive work, during which they stand for long periods of time in production lines that move very quickly while wielding knives or other cutting instruments. They often work in extreme temperatures and make up to 40,000 repetitive cutting motions per shift. Worker safety will play no role under the PHBSIS proposal, and the new system will allow poultry slaughter establishments to run their lines with no maximum line speed—guaranteeing a rise in workplace injuries.

Line speeds have also been linked to food contamination, and the new proposal may put consumers at risk of food-borne illnesses by removing on-line FSIS inspectors who are trained to inspect bird carcasses for contaminated material—including fecal matter. Under the new system, poultry slaughter establishments will be allowed to monitor the poultry carcass inspection process themselves.

“”Over 100 years ago, Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle in an effort to shed light on the unhealthy and dangerous working conditions in meat packing plants, and it is amazing that the poultry industry would be allowed to turn back the clock and dismantle our last line of defense against workp lace injuries and food-borne illnesses,”” said Mark Lauritsen, UFCW International Vice President and Director of the Food Processing, Packing and Manufacturing Division. “”We urge members of Congress to join the UFCW in opposing this misguided proposal in order to protect the health and safety of our workers and families.””

For more than 100 years, the UFCW has been fighting to improve the working conditions of food workers and the safety of our food, and currently represents more than 250,000 workers in the packing and processing industries. In addition to protecting the rights of food workers, the UFCW is also a founding member of the Safe Food Coalition which consists of consumer groups, groups representing victims of food-borne illnesses, and watchdog groups that are dedicated to reducing the incidence of food-borne illnesses in the United States.

The USDA FSIS meetings will take place on February 5-6 at 8:45 a.m. at the Key Bridge Marriott at 1401 Lee Highway in Arlington, Va.

January 17, 2008

COLORADO PREMIUM WORKERS VOTE

Greeley, CO—Meatpacking workers at Colorado Premium stood strong against employer intimidation to vote in favor of representation by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 7 on Wednesday, January 16, 2008.

Colorado Premium workers were dedicated to seeking a union to address basic worker needs on the job—protection from dangerously fast line speeds and access to bathroom breaks.  The results of the first election held on December 7, 2007 were thrown out for unlawful employer conduct. NLRB charges were then filed against Colorado Premium after the company intimidated union supporters and offered raises and other bribes to workers who voted against joining the union.

According to American Rights at Work, union elections are marred by a huge number of illegal actions nationwide. Because the penalties for violating the NLRA are so weak, employers have little incentive to avoid illegal tactics if they will succeed in intimidating workers into abandoning the union effort.

“”The Colorado Premium workers struggled for a voice on the job. Their victory did not come easy. This second election is remarkable considering how difficult it is for workers to organize in the face of employer intimidation,”” said Kevin Williamson, UFCW International Vice President and Director, Region 6.

January 10, 2008

AGRIPROCESSORS SLAMMED BY FEDERAL COURT FOR ILLEGALLY DENYING WORKERS A VOICE

(Brooklyn, NY) — Workers at the Agriprocessors distribution center in Brooklyn won a major victory when the U.S. Court of Appeals ordered the company to recognize their vote for a union voice at work.

The court ruled in favor of the workers’ right to join the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) by reaffirming the long-standing principle that all workers, undocumented or not, have the right to choose a union and bargain collectively.  The company refused to bargain after an overwhelming majority of its distribution center workers voted to join the union in September 2005.

Agriprocessors argued that, despite having hired them, many of these employees were undocumented and therefore, according to Agriprocessors, they could not vote or belong to a union.  The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled against Agriprocessors, maintaining that every employee, regardless of his or her immigration status, have a collective bargaining vote.  Nearly three years later, Agriprocessors lost its appeal in federal court.

Despite the positive ruling, this is just another example of our broken immigration system, specifically the abject failure of the employment verification process. Immigration law should complement, not undercut, the enforcement of labor and employment laws.  Otherwise, the wages, benefits, working conditions, and labor rights of all workers will deteriorate.

“U.S. labor law protects all workers and the UFCW will not allow any company to operate outside of the law and take advantage of its employees,” said Mark Lauritsen, UFCW International Vice President and Director of the Food Processing, Packing and Manufacturing Division.  “The Court of Appeals has sent a clear message to Agriprocessors and other employers who think they can skirt the law and deny workers a voice to make their workplace safer and their jobs better.”

Agriprocessors is one of the nation’s largest kosher meat producers.  The company produces products under the following brand names: Aaron’s Best, Aaron’s Choice, European Glatt, Iowa Best Beef, Nevel, Shor Harbor , Rubashkin’s, Supreme Kosher, and David’s.

 

November 13, 2007

Meatpacking Corporate Power Threatens Jobs and Communities

(Washington, DC) – Today, the nation’s largest meatpacking worker union announced its support for an effort to ban meatpacking corporations from owning livestock   The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) supports a key provision of the Farm Bill (S.2302) that would preserve the structure that keeps food production a stable industry in America’s heartland and protect jobs for hundreds of thousands of workers in the U.S.

A handful of meatpacking corporations dominate the beef and pork industries.  Meatpacking companies have used the changing landscape to own as much livestock as possible.  As a result, farmers have lost business.  In the pork industry, when meatpackers own the hogs from birth to slaughter they can move livestock and production to wherever they can find the cheapest land and labor.

Workers, communities and the environment have paid the price for these disruptions.  Giant hog feedlots with lagoons of hog waste sprung up overnight and overwhelmed the environment and water tables in parts of the country where hog production didn’t exist thirty years ago. Giant processing plants were built near the feedlots to employ a workforce that is beholden to the industry.   Workers at processing plants located in places like Iowa and South Dakota lost their jobs when plants were shuttered and never reopened.

Left unchecked and unregulated, every meatpacking producer will attempt to operate the same way – moving livestock and production to maximize profits, no matter how many jobs and local economies are destroyed in the process.  UFCW’s experience is that meatpacking corporations which own livestock push down wage and benefits levels for all workers in the industry.

U.S. Senators are considering a provision, Section 10207. Prohibition on Packers Owning, Feeding, or Controlling Livestock as part of the 2007 Farm Bill.  This provision would preserve the open market approach to meat production and protect workers and communities from further disruption and exploitation at the hands of giant meatpacking companies.  The UFCW joins more than 200 organizations, including the National Farmers’ Union, in supporting the ban on packer ownership of livestock.

In a full-page ad in today’s issue of Roll Call, UFCW members pointed out that when meatpacking companies own all levels of production, the stability of processing jobs are at risk.

The UFCW represents more than 250,000 workers in the meat packing and food processing industries, including workers at Hormel, Tyson, Cargill and Smithfield Foods.