News and Updates
September 23, 2014
Did you know that in 2008, six million Americans didn’t vote because they missed a registration deadline or didn’t know how to register?
We can’t let that happen again – the 2014 election is just too important to working families. This election will determine whether the Senate and countless state and local governments fight to raise the minimum wage and expand workers’ rights or to bust unions, slash budgets, and cut taxes on the rich. We need to make sure that every UFCW household has its voice heard this year.
Today is National Voter Registration Day, and our allies at Rock the Vote have created a website with all the information you need to make sure you’re registered.
Forms, key dates, and other voting information are all included.
July 31, 2014
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Joe Hansen, International President of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), today released the following statement after the USDA published a final poultry modernization rule.
“For more than two years, UFCW members have spoken out with a simple and compelling message: safe line speeds mean safe workers.
“With today’s publication of an improved poultry modernization rule, it is clear that the voices of UFCW members were heard loud and clear.
“I want to thank our coalition partners in labor, food safety, and the civil rights community for standing side by side with us throughout this process. I want to recognize the Department of Labor for raising important safety questions. And I especially want to commend Secretary Vilsack for listening to our concerns and taking the necessary steps to fix this rule.
“Poultry processing remains a dangerous job; a recent study showed 42 percent of workers in this industry have evidence of carpal tunnel. With this rule behind us, I look forward to working with the Department of Labor and the USDA to make our poultry plants safer and ensure more workers can have a voice on the job.”
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, 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, or join our online community at www.facebook.com/UFCWinternational and www.twitter.com/ufcw.
July 15, 2014
In 2012, a six-year study was published that examined the occupational history of more than 1,000 women, finding that those who worked in the automotive plastics and in the food packaging industries were five times more likely to develop premenopausal breast cancer than women in the control group. One of the main chemicals used in their workplaces? Bisephenol A, better known as BPA.
Two years earlier, the President’s Cancer Panel, an advisory committee attached to the National Cancer Institute, identified a variety of toxic chemicals, including BPA, that may be causing “grievous harm.”
And yet this chemical is still in products Americans consume every day.
BPA is used to make plastics and resins in thousands of consumer products, including food packaging, despite the fact that it poses serious health risks for consumers, workers and children.
The dangers of BPA have been well demonstrated. Exposure, even at minimal levels, has been linked to numerous health problems, including breast cancer, altered fetal development, infertility and behavioral changes.
The list of items that contain BPA is long, but progress by the Food and Drug Administration to adequately protect consumers has been slow and inadequate. In the wake of strong pressure from lawmakers and the public and changes in industry practices, the FDA has banned BPA from baby bottles, sippy cups and infant formula packaging. Many private retailers and manufacturers have also banned BPA in food containers for young children. But much more is needed.
In order to fully protect children from exposure to BPA, we must also protect pregnant women and all of the foods they and young children may ingest. BPA is still used in all sorts of other food packaging, exposing not only those who consume those products, but also the factory workers who assemble them, to harmful levels of BPA.
That is why recently we introduced the Ban Poisonous Additives Act, which would remove BPA from food packaging, encourage the development of safe alternatives, and ensure a thorough safety review of all substances currently used in food and beverage containers. The bill also explicitly requires the FDA to examine the effects of BPA on the workers who may be disproportionately exposed to BPA during the manufacturing process.
The BPA Act is supported by numerous public health and cancer advocacy organizations, as well as United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, the Communication Workers of America, the United Steelworkers and the United Automobile Workers, who represent the workers who handle BPA on a daily basis.
We join with this broad coalition of consumers, workers and families who are calling for action. Banning BPA from food and beverage containers is common sense, and everyone will be safer for it.
June 12, 2013
This week, 26 Members of Congress committed to live off of a food stamp budget in order to bring awareness to House Republican cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Already, the SNAP program denies eligibility to 50 million “food insecure households”. But now, proposed changes to the Farm Bill would strip access to the program from an additional 2 million families.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and the other Member of Congress participating in the SNAP challenge are addressing this alarming issue by attempting to live off of less than $4.50 a day.
Today the challenge participants stopped at a Washington D.C. Safeway, where Local 400 members work, to buy a week’s worth of groceries for about $30. In order to keep to the strict budget of the food stamp program, staples like milk and butter were out of the question. Representative Lee described the difficulty of the trip in a blog post:
“What I’m thinking about most during this trip is that I’m shopping only for myself. When I was a young, single mother, I was on public assistance. It was a bridge over troubled water, and without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I spent hours debating what to buy and what to skip, all the while keeping my sons in my mind.”
The proposed changes to the Farm Bill will send many single parents who are in this position, into a state of utter uncertainty about how to provide food for their families. A large portion of those affected by the cuts will be under the age of 18.
This is not the first time officials have tried the SNAP challenge, however. Newark Mayor Cory Booker did so earlier this year, and Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton found that adhering to the food stamp budget left him feeling tired, and eventually “unable to focus”. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) admitted that if this was how he had to live, he would likely be a more unpleasant person, due to his state of hunger. He also lost six pounds in just four days.
The conservatives who claim food stamp programs create dependency on government don’t know what its like to go hungry. Some may joke about those who must rely on government programs, but the reality is that many hard-working people cannot make ends meet without them.
UFCW Local 400 President Mark Federici made a statement following the group’s visit to Safeway this week, commending the challenge participants:
“Year in and year out, the SNAP/Food Stamp program proves itself an unqualified success in reducing hunger, alleviating poverty and stimulating the economy. That’s why we are deeply dismayed that the Senate version of the Farm Bill re-authorization cuts SNAP benefits for approximately 500,000 households, and outraged that the House version of the legislation would completely eliminate benefits for two million low-income families. This would be bad enough under any circumstances, but it’s even worse coming at a time when far too many Americans are unemployed and our economic recovery is still shaky.
“The SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge is a critical way for elected officials and other leaders to experience first-hand how hard it is to feed a family on a SNAP budget, and to understand why benefits should be increased, rather than cut. We applaud all the members of Congress who are joining the challenge this week, and we are especially proud that they chose to purchase their groceries at a union shop. They understand that shopping union gets you the most value for your grocery dollar and the best customer service in the industry.
“Local 400 is privileged to join with these members of Congress in educating the public about the persistence of hunger in America and urging lawmakers to restore full funding to the SNAP/Food Stamp program in the Farm Bill.
“We also remind policy makers that the best way to reduce SNAP expenditures is to shop union, and to restore to workers their right to choose collective bargaining. The rise of low-wage employers like Walmart is a big reason why the SNAP program has grown in recent years, because the workers earn so little, they need Food Stamps to feed their families. By contrast, the more workers with union contracts, the fewer workers will need SNAP or any other type of federal assistance. That’s a win-win solution for everybody, because it lowers poverty, eases hunger, bolsters the economy, and improves government balance sheets.”
June 5, 2013
Huffington Post: Poultry Worker Study Finds Alarming Rate Of Carpal Tunnel As USDA Considers Line Speedup
WASHINGTON — A recent government study of workers at a poultry plant in South Carolina determined that four out of 10 showed signs of the painful hand-and-arm condition known as carpal tunnel syndrome, a finding that raises fresh concerns about a federal proposal that would allow plants to speed up their slaughtering lines.
Poultry processing work is full of repetitive motion, and numerous reports have documented the job’s health and safety hazards over the years. The recent study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) examined just one plant, but workplace health experts say it offers one of the most granular looks at how the job takes a toll on line workers — and how faster line speeds, currently being considered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, could possibly make things worse.
“This gives you a snapshot of what goes on in one plant,” said Celeste Monforton, a public health expert at George Washington University. “It’s done and it shows damning results. … I don’t know how USDA will dismiss what’s in this.”
NIOSH experts visited the plant twice last year, examining workers who eviscerate, debone and cut chickens to prepare them for sale, according to the report. They interviewed the workers about hand and arm pain and performed nerve conduction tests on them. Forty-two percent had indications of carpal tunnel, and a majority of workers reported “multiple musculoskeletal symptoms,” most commonly hand and wrist pain.
Read the report below.
Out of 318 participants at the plant, 213 “reported pain, burning, numbness or tingling in their hands or wrists in the past 12 months.” Furthermore, two-thirds of those 213 workers reported “awakening from sleep because of these symptoms.”
Despite those findings, public health and labor advocates say these workers may soon see their workloads increase.
Last year, the USDA put forth a proposal to overhaul the poultry inspection process. The change would pull many government inspectors off the slaughtering line where they visually inspect birds, moving resources instead toward the detection of bacteria and other invisible dangers. The rule change would thereby allow poultry plants to speed up their slaughtering lines, delivering savings to poultry companies.
Backers have pitched the proposal as a cost-saver for both government and industry. Critics, however, have called it a giveaway to the poultry business that could have unintended consequences.
Many occupational health experts have objected to the proposal, saying line speeds already move too fast for workers like those in the South Carolina plant that NIOSH visited. USDA officials have told stakeholders privately that the change wouldn’t impact line workers, drawing a distinction between the slaughtering process, where the speedup would occur, and the processing line, where most workers toil.
But critics like Tony Corbo, a lobbyist at the watchdog group Food & Water Watch, say that if chickens are being slaughtered at a faster rate, then it stands to reason they will be processed at a faster rate as well. Corbo told HuffPost he’s skeptical that poultry plants, well-known for their tight controls on labor costs, will be eager to add more workers to the lines to account for a slaughtering speedup. Many plant employees already work essentially shoulder-to-shoulder, he noted.
“If you’re speeding up the lines, guess what — it’s going to impact the speed at which those workers are chopping up the chickens,” Corbo said. “Unless they establish new lines in the factories, those workers are going to be working faster and faster.
“Remember Lucy in the candy factory?” he added.
Poultry line workers are among some of the most vulnerable laborers in the U.S. The polyglot workforces often include immigrants from Latin American and African countries, who generally work for low pay on demanding production schedules. Class-action lawsuits have become common in the industry, with workers claiming they’re shorted on their wages or required to work off the clock.
The NIOSH study was done at the request of the Agriculture Department, and the South Carolina plant was required to undergo the evaluation in order to secure a waiver under the current line-speed rules. A NIOSH spokeswoman said experts will evaluate the workers again after the speedup to determine what, if any, the health effects have been. Those results will be shared with the USDA as well.
An Agriculture Department spokeswoman said the agency “welcomes NIOSH’s work” and is reviewing the study’s findings.
“This data is preliminary,” she said in an email. “We look forward to the full results of NIOSH’s research and to working with them further on this issue.”
The agency wouldn’t be required to alter or scrap the speed-up proposal based on any health findings, and it isn’t clear what bearing NIOSH’s studies will have on the final rule. As Monforton and others noted, the White House and the USDA appear committed to moving forward with the rule.
The president’s most recent budget proposal assumes the rule will go into effect — an assumption that the left-leaning Center for Progressive Reform calls a “rebuke” to concerned parties.
“The President’s budget suggests that most of these concerns, raised by a broad coalition of the public interest community, have been ignored in a headlong rush to finalize a rule that officials believe will save a few million dollars,” the group wrote. “Yet, some hope remains that the rule is not written in stone.”
Read the NIOSH report here.