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    Packing and Processing

May 7, 2007

Statement by Joseph T. Hansen, International President, United Food and Commercial Workers Union

Washington DC—Today’s launch of the Coalition to Advance Healthcare Reform (CAHR) marks the first serious entry of the business community as full participants into the national healthcare reform debate. The nearly 40 major companies currently signed onto CAHR bring a new and positive momentum to the growing mandate for political action on our national healthcare crisis.

A great many of the companies have union workforces, including Safeway, Kroger, Supervalu, Raleys, Heinz, General Mills, Clorox, Del Monte Foods and CVS among others, whose workers are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). These companies have long been committed to and engaged in the issue of providing good healthcare coverage to employees through the collective bargaining process.

Escalating costs, declining healthcare access for more and more Americans, as well as compromised quality, leave those at the bargaining table to deal with a national crisis that can only be solved with a national political solution.

Compounding the situation is the lack of fairness in our current healthcare system that allows irresponsible employers—like Wal Mart—to shift their healthcare costs onto taxpayers and responsible employers.

The UFCW has long been a supporter of universal, affordable and quality health care coverage for all Americans.   And we believe that a broad-based effort of all Americans is fundamental to achieving that goal. Responsible members of the business community have a large role to play in this effort, and we applaud CAHR for bringing them into the national healthcare dialogue.

America’s workers need universal healthcare. CAHR principles represent an important contribution in the effort to adopt healthcare reform that is fair to everyone in our society, can control costs, and provide universal access to quality healthcare all Americans.

We look forward to working with CAHR, and will continue working with lawmakers, advocacy groups and other unions to solve our country’s health care crisis.

UFCW President Joe Hansen was the only labor representative on the 14 member Citizens’ Health Care Working Group mandated by Congress to make recommendations to the President and Congress for solving the healthcare crisis. The Working Group engaged nearly 40,000 Americans in an historic national dialogue over a nearly two- year period and submitted its recommendations last September. They can be accessed at:  www.ufcw4healthcare.org

April 27, 2007

Townsends Workers Put Focus on Wage and Hour Irregularities


(Siler City, NC) — Townsends workers fighting for better conditions at the Siler City and Pittsboro, North Carolina, poultry plants have begun investigating widespread worker claims of underpayment for time worked and other violations of federal wage and hour laws.  Townsends workers have been working to organize a union with the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW).

During the ongoing union organizing campaign, workers have regularly complained about Townsends changing clocks in the factory, forcing the workers to pay for necessary equipment, and not paying for worked time.  Many workers believe Townsends does this because they don’t think the immigrant workforce will complain.

“The law is clear – employers like Townsends are required to pay workers for all the time they work. That includes the time it takes putting on and taking off required safety equipment.  Townsends seems to believe workers at their plants in Siler City and Pittsboro should provide their labor as a gift to the company. They deserve to be paid for all of their work—including any unpaid work they’ve already performed—and it’s one of the reasons the workers are forming a union,” said Mark Lauritsen, UFCW International Vice President and Director of the union’s Food Processing, Packing and Manufacturing Division.

Pittsboro employee Samuel Tapia Alavarado said, “We work hard. We deserve to be paid and treated fairly at Townsends.   They deduct work supplies from our checks. They do not even pay us for our prep time. It is time for Townsends to stop treating us like second class citizens.  We are forming a union to improve conditions for all immigrants and all workers in the polleras.”

UFCW will be supporting the May 1 immigrant rights rally in Raleigh-Durham.  Last year, workers and immigrants marched on behalf of comprehensive immigration reform.  “Abuse of immigrant workers is a practice many employers use to lower working standards for all workers in numerous economic sectors, including the poultry sector,” said Lauritsen. “And it’s one of the prime reasons the UFCW supports comprehensive immigration reform.”

Townsends worker Paulo Faustino agrees: “The abuses to immigrant workers in the polleras must stop. With a union we will have the legal power to win improvements and changes.  We deserve to be treated and paid fairly. We should not allow ourselves to be intimidated by what the company says. It is our right to take a stand to improve conditions for all immigrants and all workers in the polleras. That’s why we are forming a union with UFCW.”

“Workers at Townsends deserve the chance to have a voice on the job for improved safety, living wages and respect for all workers.  The UFCW intends to make that happen,” continued Lauritsen.

The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) represent 1.3 million workers across North America.  UFCW members work in poultry and meatpacking plants, food processing facilities, retail stores and supermarkets. The UFCW is about workers helping workers achieve better wages, better benefits, and safer working conditions. Despite the challenges of soaring health care premiums, costly prescription medications, retirement insecurity, and economic instability, the UFCW is a powerful voice for working men and women, leading efforts to protect and improve the livelihoods of all workers.

February 6, 2007

Jose Guardado, Meatpacking Worker and Union Activist

My name is Jose Guardado and I worked at the Nebraska Beef meatpacking plant in Omaha, Nebraska for 8 years. I worked on the kill floor where we faced more than 2500 steers each day.

I came to this country to follow the American dream. I thought that in the most powerful country in the world, workers were free to express themselves. I thought the laws protected workers who wanted to form a union. I was wrong. Instead, I found that when employers break every law, abuse workers and silence our voices, no one does anything to stop them.

My co-workers and I wanted a union at work to fight back against the dangerous working conditions, the lack of respect, and abusive treatment. We all signed cards showing our support for the UFCW.

The law wasn’t enough to stop Nebraska Beef from campaigning against us. The company terrified workers from standing up for their rights. They threatened to fire union supporters, threatened to call immigration and deport the Latinos and threatened to close the plant. They promised to slow down the line and treat everyone better. On the day of the elections, Nebraska Beef brought in a bunch of workers from another company plant to vote against the union.

Workers were scared. No one wanted to lose their job. The company won the vote by a small number. The line was sped back up and no one was given what was promised to them.

Then, Nebraska Beef began firing union supporters. I knew they were watching and waiting for me to make a mistake, so I was very careful. But the company fired me. My insurance was terminated weeks before they fired me and I had to pay $1,000 out of my own pocket for doctor’s visits and medicine. Meanwhile, they still took $20 out of the last three paychecks for health insurance that I didn’t have.

This company took away my livelihood and hurt my family just to keep us from organizing a union. Many other workers were fired or quit because they were so afraid.

Now, workers at Nebraska Beef still suffer the abuse and indignity that existed before the union campaign. Workers are still being threatened and fired. And, there is no way to ever have a fair election there.

We need this law to protect workers’ rights. We need this law to help workers who want to have safer working conditions and a better life with union representation.

February 6, 2007


(Washington, DC) — For most Americans, the suggestion of an election sounds like the most reasonable, fair decision-making process around. But in America’s workplaces, union elections turn into a process for terminations, intimidation, fear and abuse at the hands of employers. Union elections turn into extremely undemocratic processes for thousands of workers.

Jose Guardado is one of them. Speaking out in support of the Employee Free Choice Act, Mr, Guardado recounted his experience attempting to organize a union at Nebraska Beef meatpacking plant in Omaha, Nebraska.

“”I came to this country to follow the American dream. I thought that in the most powerful country in the world, workers were free to express themselves,”” said Jose Guardado, a meatpacking worker and union activist. “”I thought the laws protected workers who wanted to form a union. I was wrong. Instead, I found that when employers break every law, abuse workers and silence our voices, no one does anything to stop them.””

Guardado was a leader in an organizing drive at the Nebraska Beef meatpacking plant where more than 900 workers signed cards to join the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW). As the workers’ campaign gained strength, the company began a vicious anti-union campaign. The company harassed union supporters, threatened to close the plant, threatened to call immigration and terrified union supporters who stood up for a voice on the job. The company’s illegal anti-union campaign narrowly defeated the worker organizing effort but resulted in numerous NLRB charges. Jose, like several other workers, felt like a marked man in the plant due to his leadership role in the organizing drive. The company eventually fired him.

Today, Mr. Guardado is a member of UFCW Local 271 and works at XL Four Star Beef in Omaha. He continues his fight for justice and a voice on the job for workers at Nebraska Beef.

“”Workers at Nebraska Beef still suffer the abuse and indignity that existed before the union campaign. Workers are still being threatened and fired. And, there is no way to ever have a fair election there. We need this law to protect workers’ rights. We need this law to ensure that workers everywhere have a chance to make the American dream a reality for their families,”” said Guardado.

January 3, 2007

AFL-CIO and UFCW Sue Bush Administration to End Eight-Year Delay on Rule Requiring Employers to Pay for Safety Equipment

(Washington, Jan. 3) – – The AFL –CIO and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) today sued the U.S. Department of Labor over its failure to issue a standard requiring employers to pay for personal protective equipment (PPE) – – a standard which has been delayed for nearly eight years.  This Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rule would require employers to pay the costs of protective clothing, lifelines, face shields, gloves and other equipment used by an estimated 20 million workers to protect them from job hazards.
The lawsuit asserts that the Bush Administration’s failure to act is putting workers in danger.  By OSHA’s own estimates, 400,000 workers have been injured and 50 have died due to the absence of this rule.  The labor groups say that workers in some of America’s most dangerous industries, such as meatpacking, poultry and construction, and low-wage and immigrant workers who suffer high injury rates, are vulnerable to being forced by their employers to pay for their own safety gear because of OSHA’s failure to finish the PPE rule.
The rule was first announced in 1997 and proposed in 1999 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) after a ruling by the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission that OSHA’s existing PPE standard could not be interpreted to require employers to pay for protective equipment.  The new rule would not impose any new obligations on employers to provide safety equipment; it simply codifies OSHA’s longstanding policy that employers, not employees, have the responsibility to pay for it.
In 1999, OSHA promised to issue the final PPE rule in July 2000.  But it missed that deadline and has missed every self-imposed deadline since.  The agency has failed to act in response to a 2003 petition by the AFL-CIO and UFCW and numerous requests by the Hispanic Congressional Caucus.  The lawsuit filed today seeks to end this eight-year delay, calling it “egregious.”
“”Nothing is standing in the way of OSHA issuing a final PPE rule to protect worker safety and health except the will to do so.  It is long overdue that the agency take action on protective equipment.  Now, we are asking the courts to force OSHA to act,”” said Joseph Hansen, UFCW International President.
 “The Bush Administration’s failure to implement even this most basic safety rule spotlights how it has turned its back on workers in this country,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.  “Too many workers have already been hurt or killed.  The Bush Department of Labor should stop looking out for corporate interests at the expense of workers’ safety and health on the job.”
 The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, asks the court to issue an order directing the Secretary of Labor to complete the PPE rule within 60 days of the court’s order.
December 21, 2006


Peco poultry workers have negotiated a new contract that will bring positive changes in the lives of the approximately 230 workers at the Brookville, Miss. plant.  The contract was approved unanimously by workers this Wednesday.

As members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 1991, Brookville Peco workers secured a contract that will guarantee wage raises, improved benefits, and will hold the company to more rigorous health and safety standards.

Highlights of the new agreement will include:

  • Guaranteed wage increase to $9.65/hr for those who have worked at the plant for 2 years or more;
  • An upgrade in the salary of premium jobs totaling 20-60 cents an hour;
  • Substantial pay increases for maintenance workers of 50 cents an hour for each year worked at the plant;
  • A change in health insurance plans that will eliminate deductibles and bring significant cost savings to employees;
  • Establishment of bereavement leave as opposed to funeral leave, granting workers more time to mourn the death of a loved one;
  • New safety equipment standards including additional time and stations to clean safety equipment and the required replacement of worn-out equipment by the employer;
  • Optional orientation on union membership for those interested in joining.

“UFCW members from the Peco plant stood together and demonstrated the determination necessary to win a groundbreaking contract that will improve the lives of Brookville families and benefit the local economy as poultry workers have more money to spend,” said Eddie James, President of UFCW Local 1991.  “This just shows that solidarity gives us strength at the bargaining table so that we can improve the lives of working people and their families.”


December 12, 2006


Washington DC—The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) is seeking an immediate injunction in federal court, today, on behalf of workers employed by Swift and Company packing operations in Texas, Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska, and Minnesota.

The workers were subjected to a wholesale round up, including detention, by Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.

“Essentially, the agents stormed the plants, many of them in riot gear, in an effort designed to terrorize the workforce,” said Mark Lauritsen, director of the UFCW Food Processing, Packing and Manufacturing division.

The UFCW represents workers at the Swift and Company plants, as well as other major packers around the country.

“This kind of action is totally uncalled for,” said Lauritsen. “It’s designed to punish workers for working hard everyday, contributing to the success of their companies and communities. They are innocent victims in an immigration system that has been hijacked by corporations for the purpose of importing an exploitable workforce.”

For years, the UFCW has called for comprehensive immigration reform—reform that provides an orderly immigration process that protects worker rights, ensures good wages and benefits for all workers, and recognizes the contributions immigrants make to our society.

“We are advising all the detained workers to exercise their right to an attorney and remain silent until they confer with counsel. These actions today by ICE are an affront to decency.”

October 2, 2006

Food and Commercial Workers Stand for Safe Meat Industry Standards


Federal Standards are Good for Consumers, Industry, and Meatpacking Workers

(Washington, DC) – Consumers deserve and expect the meat that they buy to be safe, sanitary, and produced and packaged under strict conditions. And that’s the exactly the kind of product that meatpacking workers want to deliver. Yet, a new USDA report shows that when inspection programs are left up to states, several states systematically fail to meet the most basic sanitation standards, and put the public at risk from food borne illness.

The Federal Meat Inspection Act and Poultry Products Inspection Act allows states to inspect meat, but those plants are not allowed to ship product in interstate commerce. Although the state inspection programs are required to apply sanitation and health standards equal to those upheld at federally inspected plants, several state programs continually fail to meet federal USDA standards.

The USDA report details state-inspected meat plants that were allowed to continue operating despite instances of:

–unsanitary conditions, including cutting boards contaminated with residue from the previous days work;
–meat being cooked at temperatures incorrectly monitored-potentially exposing consumers to bacteria; and
–meat sold to unsuspecting customers after inspection programs were found to not meet legal standards for safety.

Despite several states failure to meet USDA standards, Congress is considering legislation that would allow meat from state-inspected plants to be sold anywhere in the country, said Michael J. Wilson, International Vice President and Director of UFCWs Legislative and Political Action Department. State inspection is not equivalent to federal inspection, and this report proves it, Wilson said.  “”In the light of the recent spinach outbreak, for Congress to move in this direction would be reprehensible.””

Relying on a series of uneven state standards is dangerous for consumers, workers, and the industry. If instances of food borne illness were to result from these poor state standards, consumers would get sick, workers would suffer from plant closures, and the whole meat industry would be impacted.

If producers want to expand beyond selling to consumers in their own state, they must be subject to federal standards. Federal USDA inspectors are sworn to uphold the public health.  Continuous inspections and high standards for sanitation mean that meat packing plants are cleaner and safer. Federal standards are good for consumers, for the meat industry, and for workers in the plants. Congress should not consider legislation which undermines the safety of our food system, Wilson said.


For more information: Jill Cashen 202.728.4797 or email press@ufcw.org .

September 25, 2006

Coalition Calls on USDA to Revise Bird Flu Plan

Washington, DC – A broad coalition of stakeholder groups issued a statement today criticizing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s plan for responding to a U.S. outbreak of bird flu and called for revisions to adequately protect the public and poultry farmers.  The coalition charged that the USDA does not acknowledge the risk posed by common poultry industry practices in the emergence and spread of highly-pathogenic avian influenza.
“”The USDA is incorrectly focusing its attention on small and free-range poultry farmers,”” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.
The USDA does not address industry practices that increase the risk of spreading avian influenza. “”Not only are big poultry producers housing hundreds of thousands of birds, they’re moving birds, feed, and supplies and even poultry waste to be used as fertilizer or to be fed to other animals,”” explained Hauter.
  “”Poultry workers and growers would be among the first exposed to an outbreak but USDA does not ensure appropriate protective equipment, specialized sanitation, training, human flu vaccinations and whistleblower protections for workers who detect and report sick birds “” said Mark Lauritsen of the United Food & Commercial Workers.
The plan does not address the potentially huge economic impacts for small processors and the vulnerability of the many workers at large plants if quarantines or depopulation eliminate the supply of poultry. “”The current USDA plan provides for compensation of the large poultry companies that own birds. Meanwhile, workers and farmers who contract with the companies are left completely vulnerable and stand to lose their entire livelihood,” said Andrea Whiteis, National Poultry Justice Alliance Director.
The coalition representing consumers, organic, minority and family farmers, ranchers, animal welfare advocates, contract poultry growers, poultry workers, unions, environmentalists, religious groups, social justice organizations and concerned citizens called on USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service to take the following steps:
  • Protect the health and livelihoods of all poultry workers and growers;
  • Follow the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) euthanasia guidelines when destroying flocks;
  • Improve procedures for venting, dust control, and transportation and disposal of bird carcasses and waste; and
  • Extend testing, enforce immediate quarantines, and notify the facilities’ neighbors if disease is detected.
The complete statement is available online at http://www.fwwatch.org/food/avian-flu/usda-should-revise-avian-flu-plan-coalition-statement or as a pdf file including the list of signatory contact information at http://www.fwwatch.org/food/avian-flu/Avian%20Flu%20Coalition%20Statement.pdf
August 30, 2006


Unions, Supported by Scientific Community,
Petition California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board for Emergency Temporary Standard for the Chemical

(Buena Park, California) – On August 23, 2006 the United Food and Commercial Workers’ Union, Western States Council and the California Labor Federation petitioned the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board to immediately issue an Emergency Temporary Standard for diacetyl, a deadly chemical used in flavorings. This follows action taken on July 26, 2006, when two affiliate unions of the Change to Win federation – the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters -petitioned the Department of Labor (DOL) for an Emergency Temporary Standard for diacetyl under Occupational Safety and Health Act.

Diacetyl is a hazardous chemical that has been connected to a potentially fatal lung disease that has been experienced by food industry workers across the nation. 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 factory workers who produce or handle diacetyl. Several food industry employees in California have developed devastating lung problems after being exposed to diacetyl in the workplace. There are currently no OSHA standards requiring exposures to diacetyl and flavorings be controlled.

According to the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, there are 16 – 20 plants producing flavorings in the state of California. And thousands of food processing workers are involved in the production of popcorn, pastries, frozen foods, candies and even dog food that use these chemicals.

The petition was accompanied by a letter from forty-two of the nation’s leading occupational safety scientists, including a former OSHA director, five former top officials from OSHA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Health and Human Services, who all agree that there is more than enough evidence for OSHA to regulate.

The UFCW and the California Labor Federation are petitioning the Standards Board to require employers to control airborne exposure to diacetyl and ensure that all employees who are exposed to a certain airborne level of the chemical are provided with air purifying respirators. The safety of these workers would be additionally monitored through medical surveillance and regular consultations.

The petition also demands that Cal/OSHA immediately issue a bulletin to all employers and employees potentially exposed to diacetyl outlining the dangers of the chemical. Cal/OSHA is being asked to conduct inspections and begin rule-making proceedings to establish a permanent standard that will put an end to this tragic epidemic and protect workers from exposure to all flavorings.