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    Packing and Processing

October 17, 2007

LEADING KOSHER MEATPACKING PLANT DELAYS CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT

Cedar Rapids, Iowa– The United States’ leading kosher meatpacking company will appear in federal court today challenging a class action lawsuit filed against the company on behalf of its workers.

The lawsuit alleges that Agriprocessors, a kosher slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa,
has not compensated workers for the time they spend preparing for work at the beginning of the day and cleaning up at the end of it. Such compensation has recently been upheld by the Supreme Court.  Agriprocessors is trying to limit worker participation in its attempt to avoid its obligations under Iowa state law which provides that all employees are automatically plaintiffs in the lawsuit unless they sign a form indicating otherwise.  Agriprocessors is arguing that only federal law applies, which requires employees to sign a form requesting participation in the class action suit.

Working conditions and food safety at the AgriProcessors slaughterhouse have been under scrutiny in the past year.  In May of this year, over 200 workers stood up for their rights and walked out of the plant in protest of the company’s misconduct.

Agriprocessors, one of the nation’s largest kosher meat producers, runs a beef, lamb and poultry processing plant in Postville, Iowa. Agriprocessors 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.

“Essentially the company is trying to undercut the voices of hundreds of workers by delaying the lawsuit and trying to limit their right to recover unpaid wages through overwhelming them with more paperwork and red tape,” says Attorney Brian McCafferty.  McCafferty will be representing the workers today in Cedar Rapids, Iowa federal court.

For more information go to www.eyeonagriprocessors.com.

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October 2, 2007

FARM BILL AMENDMENT WILL WEAKEN AMERICA

Amendment will eliminate a 40-year-old protection in the federal meat and poultry inspection acts

Washington, D.C. – The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) today joined forces with the Consumer Federation of America, Safe Tables Our Priority and other consumer and watchdog groups to oppose an amendment in the Senate Farm Bill that puts consumers and food workers at risk of foodborne illnesses.  The pending amendment will eliminate a 40-year-old protection in the federal meat and poultry inspection acts that bans state inspected meat and poultry from being sold in interstate commerce.  The amendment will also allow meat and poultry plants to forgo federal inspections and increase the risk of foodborne illnesses in the United States.

“Any notion that state inspection systems are equal to the federal system is hogwash,” said Michael J. Wilson, UFCW International Vice President and Director of Legislative and Political Action.  “States have no ability to recall tainted products, and state inspectors are not accountable to consumers in other states.  Any effort to devolve federal oversight of meat and poultry plants to states is a threat to consumer safety and will further subject food workers to unsanitary work conditions.”

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 a quarter of a million workers in the meatpacking and poultry 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 foodborne illnesses, and watchdog groups that are dedicated to reducing the incidence of foodborne illnesses in the United States.

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September 25, 2007

FARM BILL PROVISION WILL PUT CONSUMERS AND FOOD WORKERS AT RISK

Provision will compromise food safety by allowing states to forgo federal meat and poultry inspections

Washington, D.C. – The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) joined forces with the American Federation of Government Employees today to oppose a provision in the House Farm Bill that will put consumers at risk of food borne illnesses and further subject food workers to unsanitary work conditions.

The provision will eliminate a 40-year-old protection in the federal meat and poultry inspection acts that bans state inspected meat and poultry from being sold in interstate commerce.  The provision will also allow the vast majority of meat and poultry plants to forgo federal inspection in favor of more lax state inspections, which ultimately puts the health and safety of millions of consumers at risk.

“This amendment will weaken America’s food safety net, pure and simple,” said Michael J. Wilson, UFCW International Vice President and Director of Legislative and Political Action.  “Anyone who pretends that state inspection is the same as federal inspection also believes in the Tooth Fairy.  In addition, it will encourage thousands of facilities who are currently federally inspected to opt for a more ‘friendly’ state inspection.  Like a tainted piece of meat, this provision deserves the stamp of rejection.”

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 a quarter of a million workers in the meatpacking and poultry 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.

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September 25, 2007

UFCW Reviving the American Dream for Meatpacking Workers

New Hormel Chain Agreement Raises the Bar for Meat Industry Contracts

(Washington, DC) – A new contract covering 4,000 Hormel workers in five locations secures big wage increases, health care improvements and greater pension security for meatpacking workers and their families. The contract sets a new standard for wages and benefits in the meat industry-one that will allow packing and processing workers to truly live the American Dream.

Five UFCW local unions took unified worksite actions over the past six months – actions that sent a strong message to Hormel that UFCW members are willing to fight and stick together for a contract that would secure wages and benefits that can support a family.

“We haven’t had a contract like this one since the late 1970s.  Wages, health care, and pensions are all increased,” said Mike Marty, a member of UFCW Local 22 in Fremont, Neb.   “We achieved it by working together, engaging our membership across the country and building good old fashioned union solidarity,” Marty said.

United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) members in five locations – Austin, Minn.; Algona, Iowa; Fremont, Neb.; Beloit, Wis.; and Atlanta, Ga. voted to ratify a new four-year contract that includes:

–considerable wage increases including  $1.40/hr base wage increase over four years for production workers and $1.80/hr base wage increase for maintenance workers. The increases bring the average wage for production workers to $15.75 an hour-the top of the industry.

–significant improvements in preventive health care, well baby and well child care, hospice care, home health care, vision care, mental health and substance abuse care, and cancer screening as well as big improvements in dental care. These improvements were achieved with no increase in deductible, and only a minimal increase in co-premiums.

–improved retirement security including increased “pension multipliers” which will mean a greater than 10 % increase in pension checks.

The Hormel contract is the latest of several major collective bargaining wins for UFCW members across the country.  Supermarket workers have engaged in unity bargaining and coordinated worksite actions over the past nine months – resulting in groundbreaking contracts with major national supermarket chains on both the East and West Coasts, Texas, and the Midwest.

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August 14, 2007

BUSH ADMINISTRATION IMMIGRATION PROGRAM WOULD LEGALIZE RACIAL DISCRIMINATION

Statement from the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union

(Washington, DC) – On a hot, quiet August morning in Washington, DC – when the President is on vacation and Congress at recess – the Bush Administration announced an immigration reform package that essentially mandates federal racial discrimination.

The Administration’s guidelines would throw the doors open to racial discrimination to whole classes of people by placing an undue burden on workers who sound foreign, look foreign and particularly, on the tens of millions of Hispanic and Asian-Americans who would face greater scrutiny in the workplace.  It is irresponsible to toss out civil rights for the sake of political gamesmanship.

Considering the circumstances, today’s announcement smacks of nothing more than a publicity stunt aimed at terrifying immigrant workers.  Further, this program lacks the support and mandate of the American people who have been demanding humane, comprehensive immigration reform that addresses the root causes of illegal immigration.  This program offers no solutions, only punishments to workers.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has proven by its past behavior that it is not beyond their scope to traumatize innocent workers, including U.S. citizens, under the guise of immigration enforcement.  During its raids at Swift meatpacking plants last December, all workers, including citizens, legal residents, were held by ICE agents and subjected to unlawful search and seizure.  Law enforcement must uphold and defend the Constitution, not violate it.

Congress and the President promised the American people it would work toward solutions to these problems but both parties have failed.  It is time for our elected leaders to get back to work – not with unauthorized, sweeping gestures like this Bush enforcement program.

More than 250,000 members of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) work in the meatpacking and food processing industries.  Many of our workplaces include immigrant workers.  Enforcement actions aimed strictly at workplaces like these accomplish nothing in terms of stemming the flow of workers entering the U.S. seeking the American Dream.  Instead, they create huge turmoil in communities, significantly disrupt the otherwise stable production in the plant and violate the civil rights of all workers in the workplace.

The UFCW will continue to fight for reform that ensures that all working people—immigrant and native-born—are able to improve their lives and realize the American dream.

For the UFCW position on immigration go to Issues

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August 10, 2007

UFCW REPORT DETAILS MAJOR FOOD SAFETY CONCERNS AT LEADING KOSHER MEATPACKING PLANT


Investigation Uncovers Startling Violations at Agriprocessors Plant
in
 Postville, Iowa

(Washington, DC) – Research into food safety records at one of the United States’ leading kosher meatpacking plants has unveiled startling violations. United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) researchers will release documents showing a pattern of food safety issues including recalled products, mad cow related safety concerns and repeated fecal and bile contamination.

“We find the USDA safety reports on this plant alarming,” said Jim Blau, assistant director of the UFCW Strategic Resources Department. “They raise troubling concerns about this company.”

Agriprocessors, one of the nation’s largest kosher meat producers, runs a beef, lamb and poultry processing plant in Postville, Iowa. Agriprocessors 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.

Over two-hundred and fifty non-compliance records were issued by the Food Safety and Inspection Service to Agriprocessors, between January 1, 2006 and January 24, 2007. The documents revealed numerous violations that may have increased the risk to consumers of possible food-borne illnesses. Documents also show repeated problems with plant monitoring for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or “mad cow” disease.

The full report is available by request at press@ufcw.org .

“Meat and food processing plants put dinner on the table for American families,” said Blau. “The pattern and scope of violations at Agriprocessors need to be addressed.”

July 11, 2007

ICE AGENTS ARREST WORKERS AT SWIFT PLANTS

Washington, D.C.—The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) announced, today, that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents made a return visit to four Swift and Company plants where workers are represented by the UFCW and arrested approximately four individuals apparently on charges of identity theft, as well as questioning several others.

It does not appear that ICE engaged in the same level of intimidation and overkill as they did in its raids last December at six Swift plants. To the extent this is the case, the UFCW supports law enforcement efforts that abide by the law and respect the rights of workers.

Worksite law enforcement around identity and immigration issues is a symptom of a failed immigration system, and is no substitute for comprehensive reform.

Last month, Congress failed to demonstrate the necessary leadership and persistence to fix our broken system. The UFCW will continue to fight for reform that ensures that all working people—immigrant and native-born—are able to improve their lives and realize the American dream.

For the UFCW position on immigration go to www.ufcw.org and click on issues.

June 13, 2007

FOOD AND COMMERCIAL WORKERS APPLAUD CONGRESSIONAL EFFORT TO FORCE OSHA TO DO ITS JOB

Washington DC—The UFCW applauds Congressional efforts to force the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to regulate Diacetyl—a dangerous chemical that has killed at least three workers and injured hundreds of others. Today, U.S. Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) introduced H.R. 2693, a bill which would compel OSHA to issue a standard regulating worker exposure to this deadly chemical.

Diacetyl is a chemical used to impart the flavor of butter in popcorn, pastries, frozen foods, and candy. Each day that they report to work, tens of thousands of food processing workers are exposed to Diacetyl—a dangerous chemical that has been connected to a potentially fatal lung disease. There have been dozens of cases of what has become known as “popcorn workers lung,” or bronchiolitis obliterans—a severe, disabling, and often-fatal lung disease experienced by food industry workers across the nation.

Despite compelling evidence that Diacetyl presents a grave danger and significant risk of life threatening illness to employees exposed to the chemical, there are currently no OSHA standards requiring exposures to be controlled.

Last year, The UFCW, together with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, petitioned the Department of Labor (DOL) to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard to stop the continued risk of Diacetyl exposure to workers. Forty-two of the nation’s leading occupational safety scientists signed on to an accompanying letter agreeing that there is more than enough evidence for OSHA to regulate this dangerous chemical. Still, OSHA did not act.

“OSHA has been sitting on evidence that there is a direct correlation between Diacetyl and popcorn workers lung for years. By not regulating this dangerous chemical, OSHA has neglected its responsibility to food workers,” said Jackie Nowell, UFCW Safety & Health Director. “The idea that it would take an act of Congress to get OSHA to do its job and protect workers is appalling.”

May 31, 2007

Gerald Robert Menapace, former UFCW International Secretary-Treasurer, Passes Away

Gerald Robert “”Jerry”” Menapace, who rose from a production worker at the hog slaughter at Goetz Packing in Baltimore, Md., to the second highest office of the United Food and Commerical Workers International Union, passed away at his home on Sunday, May 27, from a heart attack.

“”The UFCW family is deeply saddened by the passing of Jerry Menapace. He was a friend and leader whose commitment to working people improved the lives of tens of thousands of working families. He was an inspiration to all of us,”” said UFCW International President Joe Hansen.

Menapace’s father, uncles, and grandfathers were all active in the United Mine Workers of America. When he was 20, Menapace joined Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen Local 149 (Now UFCW Local 27). Within two years, he became a union activist first serving as a local union representative, and later rising to the presidency of his local union. In 1974, he was elected an International Vice President of the Meat Cutters.

After the 1979 merger with the Retail Clerks International Union that formed the UFCW, Menapace became a UFCW International Vice President. In 1982, he became special assistant to the International President. He was named director of the Retail Division in 1984, and elected International Secretary-Treasurer in 1986 and re-elected in 1988.

Menapace’s leadership reflected his lifelong commitment to workers. Throughout his career he was an active champion for civil rights and social justice, deeply committed to the struggle for racial equality in Baltimore and in the entire U.S. He was a lifelong member of the NAACP.

He never forgot his commitment to workers, reminding people often that, “”the union exists solely for the benefit of members. Officers come and go. People live and die. The union goes on forever.””

Menapace was a native of Atlas, Pa., and graduated from public schools in his hometown. He spent four years in the Navy, serving in Africa during the Korean War as a radio operator. He completed a two-year program in labor relations at Harvard University.

Menapace is survived by his wife, Jeanne Dawson and six sons—David Menapace of Waynesboro, Pa., Danny Menapace of Cumberland, Martin Menapace of Hapeville, Ga., Douglass Menapace of Phoenix, Md., Jeffrey Menapace of Hawthorne, N.J., and Steven Menapace of Bel Air; two daughters, Kathleen Menapace of Baltimore and Elizabeth Stewart of Huntington, W. Va.; a brother Robert Menapace of Northumberland, Pa.; a sister, Jacqueline Bolger of Roslyn, Pa., 17 grandchildren, and two great-granddaughters.

May 30, 2007

MEATPACKING WORKERS STAND UP FOR A VOICE ON THE JOB

(Windom, Minn.) – Meatpacking workers at PM Beef stood strong against employer intimidation to vote in favor of representation by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1161 on Friday, May 25, 2007.   The 500 PM Beef workers, who work in a full-scale cattle slaughtering and processing plant, sought out a voice on the job to address basic worker needs on the job – protection from dangerously fast line speeds and access to bathroom breaks.

“The PM beef workers fought hard for the opportunity to have a voice on the job.  Their victory is significant 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.

The majority Latino workforce withstood a heavy-handed anti-worker campaign by the company.  Using hired gun lawyers, PM Beef pulled workers from the processing line to hold mandatory meetings with supervisors.  Workers were subjected to one-on-one meetings with plant management for a month leading up to the election date.

According to American Rights at Work, more than 78 percent of workers face these kinds of captive audience meetings when organizing a union.  Employers like PM Beef use the forced meetings to question workers about how they plan to vote, spread misinformation about the union and make workers fearful for speaking out in support of union representation.

What are rarely addressed in captive audience meetings are real solutions to the problems that inspired workers to organize.  At PM Beef, that included the company’s policy of requiring workers to pay for their own knives when one broke or became unusable on the line.

“Workers withstood one-on-one meetings with bosses to maintain their solidarity and courage to vote together for UFCW representation,” said Williamson.  “Their successful campaign will inspire other area meatpacking and other processing workers to stand up for respect and dignity on the job.”

The UFCW represents more than 250,000 workers in the meatpacking, poultry and food processing industries and has been on the frontlines of advocacy for comprehensive immigration reform (www.ufcw.org/issues/immigration).