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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.

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.
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.

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

 

 

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.

October 21, 2005

Tyson Foods Force Thousands of Workers onto Picket Lines in Alberta, Canada

Strikers Hospitalized from Brutal Attacks

(Washington, DC) – As the temperature begins to cool here in the United States, a bitter and brutal cold has crept into the air surrounding the Tyson beef plant in Brooks, Alberta, Canada.  More than 2,300 workers, many of them workers who are refugees from the Sudan, have been forced onto the streets and onto picket lines in a battle to preserve a decent standard of living.  Tyson is leaving workers and their families out in the cold, again.

Workers at the Brooks plant stood up for a voice with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 401 in August, 2004, eager for basic workplace protections such as an end to harassment, improved safety training, and better handling of biological hazards.   More than 600 Sudanese immigrant workers were lured to Alberta with the promise of a good job and bright future.  Tyson’s disregard for the basic safety needs of its workforce, immigrant and native, is reprehensible. Picket lines went up on October 12, 2005 after Tyson Foods threw out a proposal by a mediator appointed by the Alberta government to facilitate a first-contract agreement.

“UFCW members and Tyson workers in the United States stand firmly in support of our Canadian brothers and sisters as they stand up against Tyson’s greed,” said Joseph T. Hansen, UFCW International President.  “We are committing every resource available to support our striking workers in Alberta on the frontlines against Tyson’s inexcusable greed.”

Provincial law enforcement officers stood by yesterday as replacement workers and management verbally and physically assaulted Sudanese workers with racially-motivated jeers and anti-immigrant insults.  Several strikers were reportedly beaten with metal pipes, left injured in a ditch before being transported to the hospital.

“Tyson recruits workers from all over the world to bring them to work in their North American operations in a race to the bottom.   Exploitation of a vulnerable immigrant workforce is part of their business plan.  Now, it is particularly galling to see that the Tyson is allowing racially-motivated violence to take place on the picket line,” continued Hansen.

Tyson’s behavior in Alberta follows a pattern it sets in the United States – doing everything in its power to lower wages, cut benefits and reduce workplace standards for employees, particularly immigrant workers.  In 2003, Tyson forced long-time meat processing workers in Jefferson, Wisconsin onto picket lines for nearly one year in order to lower wage and benefit levels for unionized workers in the United States.  In this instance, Tyson’s message to the black immigrant workforce is clear: we brought you to this continent so that we can pay you less than native workers.

Tyson Foods is the Wal-Mart of the meat industry – dominating 27 percent of all beef, pork and chicken sales in the U.S.  But size doesn’t give it the excuse to drag workers’ wages, health care benefits, and workplace standards to the even lower levels.  The company carries very little debt and share prices have increased by 25% in the last year.  Tyson has no financial need to demand sub-standard wage and benefit levels for workers in the U.S. or Canada.

The Brooks facility handles 40% of all beef slaughter in Canada.   It operates under the name “Lakeside Packers.”  Tyson has owned the plant for ten years.

UFCW members in the U.S. will be marching and leafletting in support of the strikers at the Millions More Movement on the National Mall in Washington, DC tomorrow.

July 24, 2005

SAFETY SCAM THREATENS WORKERS’ LIVE

Washington, D.C. — The segment of the American workforce most likely to suffer injury or death on the job was targeted in a scam operation by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. ICE officers masqueraded as safety instructors to round up documented and undocumented construction workers in North Carolina with a flier announcing a mandatory Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) meeting, earlier this month, then arrested 48 undocumented workers who attended the meeting.

“OSHA is responsible for worker safety and health,” said UFCW International President Joe Hansen.  “For ICE to stage a sham OSHA meeting in order to round up and arrest people undermines OSHA’s mission, and is a step backwards for state and federal efforts to reduce worker injuries and deaths. The word being brought back to worksites, after a scam like this, is that OSHA can’t be trusted. That kind of perception diminishes OSHA’s ability to do the critical work of protecting America’s labor force.”

There are more than 10 million foreign-born workers in the US, making up about 15% of the workforce. Immigrant workers have the highest rates of on-the-job injuries and fatalities.  Hispanic workers suffer 69% of all on-the-job injuries/deaths. In the meatpacking industry, more than half of the workers are foreign-born, and in some plants, up to 80% of the workers are immigrants.

“This unscrupulous action has shattered the trust between OSHA and the workers who depend on the agency the most,” said Hansen. “More and more often, it is immigrants who work in the most dangerous industries such as construction or meatpacking.  How can OSHA reach these at-risk workers with safety information now?  To these workers, OSHA no longer means safety, but betrayal. The Bush administration must denounce the kind of trickery that undermines safety.””

July 24, 2005

Koch’s Foods Workers to Hold Election to Gain a Voice on the Job

 

Seven hundred and fifty workers at two Koch’s Foods poultry processing units in Morristown,   Tennessee have filed a petition for a union election to be conducted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).  Workers at the Morristown plant approached the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 1995, seeking a voice on the job.  Workers have been organizing at the plant for the past month. A majority of workers at the two units have signed UFCW union authorization cards.

“UFCW currently represents Koch’s Foods workers at two plants in Mississippi,” said George J. Saleeby, International Vice President and Director of UFCW Region 3. “Koch’s workers in the Morton and Forest plants are able to bargain collectively for wages, benefits, and working conditions.  The workers in Morristown came to us because they also want a voice on the job.””

The U.S. government requires workers and the union of their choice to have at least 30% of their co-workers sign union authorization cards in order to file for a NLRB election. During an election, eligible workers at the location vote for or against the petitioning union. When a union is voted in by 50% plus one person, both the company and union sit down to negotiate a mutually beneficial contract for the workers and to improve workplace conditions.