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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 18, 2008

WHAT

(Washington, DC) – The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) is deeply concerned that the state of Indiana is not forthcoming with accurate information about the location of the worksite in which workers have been diagnosed with a rare neurological illness.

According to local news reports, the Indiana Department of Health is refusing to identify the name or location of the facility citing privacy concerns.  This is in stark contrast to the actions of state health officials, UFCW representatives and company officials in Minnesota where the work-related disease was first discovered.

It appears that only three meatpacking plants in the United States use an air-compression system to harvest brains from pork — QPP in Austin, Minnesota, Hormel in Fremont, Nebraska and Indiana Packers in Delphi, Indiana.   Investigators from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have identified Indiana Packers as the site of the new cases of yet unnamed the inflammatory neurological condition.

UFCW Local 700 President Joe Chorpenning said, “One can assume that Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and his state government doesn’t care about regular working people that would hide information that might protect workers from neurological illness.””

When workers became stricken with the mysterious neurological illness in Austin, QPP immediately contacted the UFCW about working together to identify any risks to workers in their plant.  The UFCW knows that QPP and Hormel stopped that production line immediately upon discovery of the illness.

No cases have been found in Nebraska.  In Minnesota, NIOSH has determined there are 12 confirmed cases among the workforce at QPP.

November 15, 2007

AFL-CIO and UFCW Welcome New Worker Safety Rule

(Washington, Nov. 14) – – The AFL-CIO and UFCW today welcomed OSHA’s announcement that the agency will finally issue the rule requiring employers to pay for personal protective safety equipment – a measure that will prevent tens of thousands of workplaces injuries every year.

“”It is unfortunate that nine years have passed since the rule was proposed, and that it took a lawsuit by the unions and Congressional intervention before the Bush Administration would act,”” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. “”America’s working men and women deserve the proper equipment to keep them safe on the job, each and every day, and we will thoroughly review this rule to make sure it protects them.””

“”Workers have spoken out for this rule and now Congress and the courts have forced the DOL to act. Our members will be watching to see this rule is enforced in every workplace,”” said Joseph Hansen, UFCW International President. “”Workers should no longer be required to dip into their own pocket to keep themselves safe from harm at work.””

Both the litigation and the FY 2008 Labor-HHS funding bill set a deadline of November 30, 2007 for final action by OSHA.

This rule is a basic requirement that codifies OSHA’s long-standing policy that it is the employer’s responsibility to pay the cost of protecting workers from safety and health hazards. The rule makes clear that employers must pay for hard hats, goggles, face shields, chemical resistant suits, and other required safety equipment. It does, however, include some exemptions from the employer payment requirements, most notably for safety shoes and prescription safety glasses that can be worn off the job.

The AFL-CIO and UFCW will be reviewing the rule in detail to determine if it provides workers with the level of protection that is needed and required by law.

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For more information about workplace safety and personal protective equipment, click here.

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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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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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.”

March 19, 2007

Responding to AFL-CIO, UFCW Lawsuit, Bush Administration Agrees to Issue Safety Equipment Rule for Employees

In response to a lawsuit filed by the AFL-CIO and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), the Bush Administration has agreed to issue a final rule on employer payment for personal protective equipment (PPE) for employees.  In 1999, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) first proposed a PPE rule that 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.

“We applaud the decision to finally issue a final rule on employer payment for their employees’ protective equipment” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.  “This rulemaking has taken far too long.  We will be monitoring the Department of Labor’s actions to make sure they honor this commitment and issue a strong, protective rule.”

On January 3, 2007, the AFL-CIO and UFCW filed a lawsuit against the Bush Administration over its failure to finalize the payment for PPE rule.  The court ordered the Bush Administration to respond to the lawsuit by March 19.  On March 14, the Secretary of Labor filed papers with the court committing to issue a final rule in November 2007.

“This is a victory for workers who have suffered needlessly while awaiting action by the Bush Administration,” said Joe Hansen, UFCW International President.  “According to OSHA’s own estimates, 400,000 workers have been injured and 50 have died while the rule has been in limbo.  We expect a strong final rule this November.”

Workers in the meatpacking, poultry and construction industries, and low-wage and immigrant workers are most vulnerable to injury.

The rule was first announced in 1997 and proposed in 1999 by 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 rule proposed in 1999 did not impose any new obligations on employers to provide safety equipment; it simply codified OSHA’s 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.

March 6, 2007

UFCW STATEMENT ON NAACP ENDORSEMENT OF EMPLOYEE FREE CHOICE ACT

(Washington, DC) – The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union applauds the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) endorsement of the Employee Free Choice Act.

As the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization, the NAACP’s support demonstrates that the Employee Free Choice Act is an important civil rights issue. If passed, the act would clear a path for workers to have a fair chance to exercise their democratic right to choose a union. Unionized workers have better wages, benefits, working conditions and job security than workers who don’t have a union.

In calling for passage of the act, the NAACP said, “The impact of unions—ensuring that all working Americans are treated well and share in the prosperity—cannot be overstated. Despite the continuing strength and advocacy power of unions, however, some employers continue to treat workers poorly, not paying them a fair wage or providing them with necessary benefits… And some employers continue to fight the legitimate organization of unions.”

Every day, corporations harass, intimidate, threaten and even fire workers who try to form unions for better working and living standards. Corporations deny employees the freedom to decide for themselves whether to form unions. And when corporations do that, they deny working men and women the freedom to pursue a better life for themselves and their future generations.

March 6, 2007

UFCW Lauds the Protective Equipment for America

Washington, DCThe United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) applauds and supports the ‘‘Protective Equipment for America’s Workers Act,’’ introduced today in the U.S. House of Representatives.  The Act, also known as H.R. Bill 1327, sponsored by Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) and co-sponsored by Congressman George Miller (D-CA), seeks to require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to complete its rulemaking on Employer Payment for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for workers.  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.

For nearly eight years, OSHA has failed to issue a standard requiring employers to pay for PPE.   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.  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.

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.

“”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 takes action on protective equipment.  The time has come to force OSHA to act,”” said Joseph Hansen, UFCW International President.

February 21, 2007

Federal Judge Orders Labor Department to Answer for Eight-Year Delay in Requiring Employers to Pay for Safety Equipment

A United States Court of Appeals ordered the Department of Labor (DOL) to respond in 30 days to a suit requesting the court to order OSHA to implement a long-delayed standard that 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 United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and the AFL-CIO sued the DOL January 3 over an eight-year delay in implementing an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rule requiring employers to pay for personal protective equipment (PPE).

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 noted 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 failed to act in response to a 2003 petition by the AFL-CIO and UFCW and  requests by the Hispanic Congressional Caucus.  The lawsuit seeking to end this eight-year delay, called it “egregious.”

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, asked the court to issue an order directing the Secretary of Labor to complete the PPE rule within 60 days of the court’s order.