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October 2, 2006

Food and Commercial Workers Stand for Safe Meat Industry Standards

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.

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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

EMERGENCY PETITION SEEKS IMMEDIATE ACTION ON LETHAL POPCORN FLAVORING

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.

August 14, 2006

Statement by United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) on H.J. Heinz Company

Washington DC—The UFCW—which  represents 2,400 workers at six Heinz plants—fully endorses the Heinz management business plan for long-term growth in the food processing industry. The management plan offers the best opportunity for the kind of stable growth that will best benefit all stakeholders—employees, communities and shareholders.

The Peltz plan for re-orienting the direction of the company via a slate of Board of Directors candidates would put the company at risk by incurring excessive debt. The Peltz plan is short-sighted, narrowly gambling on a quick—but perhaps fleeting—spike in company value. The plan would disrupt key customer relationships, sell off operations, eliminate jobs, and close plants with no clear, long-term purpose of building a strong and growing company presence in the industry.

The UFCW agrees with the financial analysts who have concluded that the Peltz plan would place too much financial risk on the company without any real business plan for long-term sustainability.

The wisest and best choice for all stakeholders would be a rejection of the Peltz slate of directors at the company’s annual shareholder meeting next week in Pittsburgh. UFCW international Vice President Mark Lauritsen who heads the UFCW Manufacturing, Packing, and Food Processing Division, will attend the meeting where he will urge shareholders to cast a positive vote for the management plan that puts stability and growth over quick fix schemes.

July 26, 2006

Emergency Petition Assails OSHA

(Washington, DC) —On July 26, 2006, two affiliate unions of the Change to Win federation — the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters — began petitioning the Department of Labor (DOL) to immediately issue an Emergency Temporary Standard to stop the continued risk of diacetyl exposure to workers. In 2002 and 2003, OSHA’s own scientists studying diacetyl unsuccessfully urged their leaders to take broader action to protect workers. There are currently no OSHA standards requiring exposures to be controlled.

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.

“Three workers have died and hundreds of others seriously injured,” said Jackie Nowell, UFCW Safety & Health Director. “It’s time for action. We will not let food processing workers continue to be the canaries in the coal mine while waiting for the industry to regulate itself.”

More than 8,000 workers are employed in the flavorings production industry and may be exposed to the dangers of diacetyl and other similar chemicals. Tens of thousands of food processing workers are involved in the production of popcorn, pastries, frozen foods, candies and even dog food that use these chemicals.  It is not clear whether consumers are at risk from exposure to diacetyl but certainly the workers who deal with high concentrations of the flavoring chemical are at risk of developing serious and irreversible lung damage.

The unions’ petition is 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.

“”Study after study have shown that breathing artificial butter flavor destroys workers lungs. We know how to prevent this terrible disease but OSHA refuses to act”” said Dr. David Michaels of the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy at the George Washington University School of Public Health.

The UFCW and Teamsters filed the petition for an Emergency Temporary Standard with the DOL 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 OSHA immediately issue a bulletin to all employers and employees potentially exposed to diacetyl outlining the dangers of the chemical.  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.

“The science is clear.  Now it is time for the Department of Labor to employ their regulatory mandate and protect the public,” said Lamont Byrd, Teamster Safety & Health Director. “Such illnesses and fatalities are avoidable and therefore, inexcusable.  An Emergency Standard is necessary to prevent the suffering and death of the additional workers who will get sick during the time it would take for OSHA to set a Permanent Standard.”

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The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union’s 1.4 million members work in America’s supermarkets, meatpacking and food processing plants.  Founded in 1903, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents more than 1.4 million hardworking men and women throughout the United States and Canada.  Both unions are founding members of the Change to Win federation.  www.changetowin.org

For more information and studies about Popcorn Workers Lung Disease, go to www.DefendingScience.org

 

 

April 28, 2006

Wayne Hanley elected as new UFCW Canada National Director

TORONTO, April 28, 2006 – Wayne E. Hanley, the 48-year-old president of UFCW Canada Local 175 and International UFCW Vice-President, was elected National Director of UFCW Canada on Thursday by the UFCW Canada National Council. Until the election of a successor at Local 175, Hanley will also continue in his role as the local’s president.

Hanley’s election as National Director follows the retirement announced earlier this week by Michael J. Fraser who had served as UFCW Canada National Director since 1999 and as International Executive Vice-President of UFCW since 2004.

“Michael Fraser has done an outstanding job leading UFCW Canada,” said Hanley. “I am committed to advancing the programs he has initiated. For more than 25 years, Michael has dedicated his life to improving the lives of working Canadians and I’m determined to continue that agenda.”

Like Fraser, Wayne Hanley also started out as grocery store employee in 1976. The teenage customer service clerk at a London, Ontario Miracle Food Mart soon became involved as a union activist. Over the next eight years, he went on to become a steward, a member of his local union’s executive board, and then an organizer when he was hired on staff at UFCW Canada Local 175 in 1984.

In 1992, Hanley was elected as Secretary-Treasurer of UFCW Canada Local 175. In 1999, he was elected President of Local 175 which today has grown to become North America’s largest single local, with over 50,000 members.

“I’ve been a friend and have worked with Wayne for over 20 years,” says Michael Fraser. “His vision, leadership and commitment to the members has never wavered. With Wayne, the future of UFCW Canada could not be in better hands. I congratulate him on his election. No one could be more deserving and I leave feeling confident of greater things ahead for Wayne and UFCW Canada.”

As for Fraser’s own future, “UFCW Canada will always be a part of my life, just a smaller part. I plan to continue to contribute in some way but what I’m really looking forward to is spending more time with my kids.”

UFCW Canada is one of Canada’s largest private sector unions with more than 230,000 members across the country working in retail, warehousing, food and beverage processing, manufacturing, hospitality, health care and other professional and service sectors.

April 18, 2006

UFCW STATEMENT ON FIRINGS AT WOLVERINE PACKING

Yesterday, the New York Times reported that least 21 Mexican workers of Wolverine Packing in Detroit, Mich., were fired when they missed work to attend an immigration rally in March. This harsh punishment follows the passage of a shameful and punitive bill recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives which would criminalize undocumented immigrant workers and anyone who assists them.

“”The fact is that the entire meatpacking industry depends on–and often exploits–the labor of immigrant and undocumented workers, especially when they don’t have a union contract,”” said Mark Lauritsen, Vice President and Director of UFCW’s Food Processing Packing and Manufacturing Division. “”These companies don’t have the luxury of outsourcing jobs to countries where they can exploit workers and ignore labor laws. Instead, they import workers who are unaware of their rights, and they reap huge profits from immigrants who take the hardest, most dangerous jobs in the country.””

It is companies like Wolverine Packing that fuel a disposable workforce by importing, exploiting, and tossing people away. Firing immigrant and undocumented workers when they stand up for human rights is a common tactic employed in the meatpacking industry. It’s a way to maintain a frightened and intimidated workforce, and to create pool of exploitable workers without rights or any means to secure their future.

Throughout the country, numerous unionized meatpacking plants with an immigrant workforce represented by the UFCW chose to go dark on the day of the immigration rallies. It was a move that recognized the fact that without their immigrant workforce, the plants would be unable to function.

Much of the US economy relies on immigrant workers. Immigrant rights are worker rights. As long as companies and Congress try to force second class status on immigrant workers, wages and workplace standards for all American workers will suffer.

December 14, 2005

UFCW BACKS LEGISLATION TO PROTECT POULTRY WORKERS FROM BIRD FLU

WASHINGTON—The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union—the nation’s largest poultry workers’ union—applauds efforts by House Democrats to protect front line poultry workers in the event of an outbreak of Avian Flu. This crucial legislation which addresses the needs to combat Avian Flu also contains language to convene a meeting of experts, representatives of the poultry industry, and representatives of poultry workers to evaluate the risk to poultry workers, the likelihood of transmission, and necessary measures to protect poultry workers from exposure.

The nation’s 200,000 poultry workers produce 500 million pounds of chicken every week. In the event of an outbreak of Avian Flu, we must have a plan to protect these workers—the chicken catchers and those that slaughter, process, and package the millions of chickens and turkeys that Americans eat each year.

To date, the Bush Administration has failed to include front line poultry workers in the discussion of the Avian Flu pandemic.

“Workers in America’s poultry industry would be the first to notice sick birds, the first to risk exposure to the deadly virus, and the first to sound the alarm. That’s like making poultry workers canaries in a mine—leaving them to contract the disease, suffer, and perhaps die as a warning of the coming pandemic,” said UFCW President Joe Hansen.

November 29, 2005

UNITED FOOD AND COMMERCIAL WORKERS UNION URGES PRESIDENT TO ADD WORKER COMPONENT TO BIRD FLU PLAN

If a bird flu pandemic were to break out in the United States, workers in America’s poultry industry would be the first to notice sick birds, the first to risk exposure to the deadly virus, and the first to sound the alarm. That’s why the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) has sent a letter to President Bush urging him to initiate coordinated protection for poultry workers on the front lines by initiating a Cabinet-level meeting to discuss worker issues and the potential pandemic.

The poultry industry is a major force in the U.S. economy, generating more than $35 billion per year in revenue. The nation’s 200,000 poultry workers produce 500 million pounds of chicken every week. We must have a plan to protect these workers-the chicken catchers and those that slaughter, process, and package the millions of chickens and turkeys that Americans eat each year.

The Bush administration has taken the first, important steps in containing a potential outbreak of bird flu by discussing and planning the control of the virus at its source-in animals.

However, if we are to avoid a pandemic, America’s plan to contain the bird flu must have a worker component. The Bush administration should consider:

–Direct contact with infected poultry or contaminated surfaces and objects is considered the main route of human infection. This kind of direct contact is the norm for workers in the poultry industry. A poultry worker immunization program will prevent the spread of the disease and assure the public that a meaningful step has been taken to contain the disease at its source.

–Poultry workers are in the best position to visually identify sick birds and report suspected cases of bird flu. These front line workers are the nation’s best defense against a pandemic, but they will need whistleblower protections in order to avoid discrimination and to assure that profit doesn’t override health and safety.

–Many immigrant, undocumented, or Spanish-speaking poultry workers are unaware of workplace safety regulations. This population is unlikely to ask for safety and health protections such as respirators or flu shots. Unfortunately, a recent sting operation where ICE agents posed as OSHA officials has hurt the credibility of government safety programs and further increased immigrants’ mistrust of government. We must reach out to these workers with health and safety information and we must strictly enforce a policy that prohibits sting operations that undermine OSHA credibility.

These worker issues are of paramount importance. Worker organizations, like unions, should be consulted and integrated into the effort. The UFCW stands ready to work with all interested stakeholders, including worker representatives, government agencies, and poultry companies.

November 14, 2005

Statement of Joe Hansen, UFCW International President

Justices Agree to End the Workplace Rip-off

(Washington, DC) – Meatpacking, poultry and food processing workers finally have the backing and protection of the highest court in the land.  Today, the United States Supreme Court affirmed the position long held by workers and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) – that employers must pay workers for time spent obtaining required safety equipment and reporting to their work location in the plant.  The UFCW has advocated for decades that all required time is paid time.

For far too long, employers have cheated workers out of their full paycheck by refusing to pay them for the time it takes to pick up their required safety equipment such as chain mail gloves, hair nets, aprons and heavy boots.  Meat industry giants like Tyson Foods, which owns IBP, have long insisted that workers paid time does not include as much as thirty to forty minutes per day spent collecting and putting on their gear and walking to their station on the production line.

Today, the Supreme Court justices unanimously agreed that workers deserve to be paid for that time.  In reality, the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court had to rule on such a case speaks volumes about the greed and arrogance of employers in this country.  It wasn’t enough to cheat workers out of their wages, the meat packing industry fought for the right to continue its rip-off all the way to the highest court.

The time has finally come for the hundreds of thousands of workers to receive their rightfully due wages when they report for duty in America’s food industry workplaces.  Today’s court ruling is a tremendous victory for workers.

Click here for a copy of the ruling.