News and Updates
Workplace Safety & Health
April 22, 2005
Omaha, Nebraska-The National Labor Relations Board ordered a new election at Nebraska Beef in Omaha, Neb., after citing the company for violating workers’ rights in an August 2001 election, after the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) had filed charges on behalf of the workers. The Board ordered the election to take place on May 26. The NLRB upheld a hearing officer’s findings and recommendation to set aside the 2001 election where the company used a broad range of intimidation tactics to deny workers a voice on the job. The workers had tried to organize with the UFCW Local Union 271.
Nebraska Beef, one of the country’s largest meatpacking plants, was cited for violations that included:
Illegal interrogation of employees concerning their union sympathies;
Illegal threats of job losses or loss of benefits if workers selected a union as their collective bargaining representative; and
Illegal threats to change working conditions if they selected the union.
The company employs approximately 1,100 mostly Latino workers who slaughter and process 2,400 cattle a day at the plant.
The NLRB ruling is just the latest in a series of actions, over the last few years, directed at Nebraska Beef by federal agencies for breaking the law. The U.S. Department of Agriculture temporarily removed federal Food Safety and Inspection Service personnel from the plant in 2003 due to the company’s food safety violations. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service raided the plant in 2000, detaining more than 200 undocumented workers and indicted several mid-level company managers.
“”This ruling represents a victory for the workers at Nebraska Beef, who have had to wait four years before justice was done about the outrageously illegal behavior of the company,”” said Donna McDonald president of Local 271 in Omaha. “”We hope the entire community will bear witness to what goes on in the plant from now until the election is held, and hold Nebraska Beef accountable if they don’t live up to community values.””
UFCW Local 271 represents nearly 1,000 meatpacking workers in Omaha. The UFCW International Union represents approximately 250,000 members in the meatpacking and food processing industry.
February 17, 2005
Food and Commercial Workers Union and Child Labor Coalition Present Proposal to Immediately Stop the Use of Children in Hazardous Jobs at Nation’s Largest Employer
Wal-Mart could stop illegal child labor in its stores through distinctive employee badges for underage workers that could readily identify them as being prohibited from hazardous assignments, according the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the Child Labor Coalition. Combined with unannounced Labor Department inspections, the use of children for hazardous jobs would come to a rapid halt.
The two organizations are sponsoring, at www.ufcw.org, an e-mail campaign directed at Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott and U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao asking them to abandon a sweetheart deal on child labor announced earlier this week, and to take meaningful action to end the abuse of young workers.
Key to the union/coalition proposal is the re-badging of underage workers. Both managers and young workers would always be aware that certain assignments are illegal. Compliance would require unannounced inspections to make sure that badges are properly issued, and that no manager is pressuring minors into illegal assignments.
Scott and Chao are being presented with a demand to amend a settlement agreement that required the Labor Department to give Wal-Mart an unprecedented 15 days notice before any inspection. Advanced notice clearly undermines compliance, and allows managers simply to re-assign underage workers before an inspection.
Hundreds of children are maimed and crippled in accidents, some losing arms and legs, every year involving balers and compactors commonly used in Wal-Mart and other retail stores to handle the disposal of boxes and similar materials. The law has long prohibited minors from operating this kind of machinery. A Labor Department investigation brought allegations that Wal-Mart was using illegal child labor to operate the hazardous equipment in several states. To settle the case, Wal-Mart paid $135,000 and the Labor Department agreed to advance notice of inspections.
The UFCW and Child Labor Coalition’s actions today are supported by leading worker advocates in the U.S. Congress, including Representative George Miller (D-Calif.) and Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). Their statements follow:
Statement of Representative George Miller (D-Calif.), Senior Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce
I congratulate UFCW and the Child Labor Coalition for proposing a workable, inexpensive and effective way to end the illegal use of child labor, and I would hope that both Wal-Mart and the Department of Labor will respond positively.
Statement of Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) on Wal-Mart’s Sweetheart Deal with Department of Labor on Child Labor Violations
The Department of Labor has shamefully abdicated its responsibility by acquiescing in Wal-Mart’s continuing violation of child labor laws and other worker protections. Even worse, the Department conspired with Wal-Mart to conceal this sweetheart deal from the public. The Department is there to enforce the law, not be muzzled by America’s largest employer.
February 11, 2005
Washington DC — The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) urges immediate action to correct dangerous line speeds in meatpacking and poultry plants where injury rates are three times that of other manufacturing sectors.
A report by the Government Accounting Office (GAO), ordered by Senator Edward Kennedy, shows what workers in the industries have been subjected to for years:
- Dangerous line speeds
- An absence of injury and illness monitoring by OSHA
- Intimidation that leads to under-reporting of injuries
- Department of Agriculture inspectors without adequate training for recognizing hazardous conditions
“Blood, Sweat, and Fear,” a Human Rights Watch report, finds that the industries’ largely immigrant workforce “contend with conditions, vulnerabilities and abuses, which violate human rights,” including:
- Life-ending injuries
- Lack of compensation for injuries
- Discrimination against immigrant workers
- Illegal company actions to suppress workers’ rights to form unions
The reports call for immediate action by both employers and federal and state governments to rectify these conditions. “The GAO and Human Rights Watch reports have put the spotlight on these industries,” said UFCW International President Joe Hansen. “These findings underscore the need for immediate concrete action to correct these long-standing problems to ensure the safety of workers who put dinner on the table for American families.”
February 11, 2005
(New Castle, Penn.) – Wal-Mart forced workers to wait four and a half years for an election in their Tire & Lube Express Department of the Wal-Mart Supercenter in New Castle, Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart’s high turnover rate pushed out the union supporters who began organizing with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 880 in June, 2000, because they felt Wal-Mart ignored their complaints about safety hazards.
Then, two days ago, Wal-Mart announced plans to shutter its store in Jonquiere, Quebec, rather than face the decision of the Quebec Labor Ministry that would have initiated a process to establish a fair and impartial wage and benefit settlement between Wal-Mart and its workers. Today under the appearance of opportunity, the workers failed to gain a voice on the job — because Wal-Mart had already silenced their voice.
“Wal-Mart struck the final blow against these New Castle workers by showing them and the whole world to what lengths it will go to deny their employees a voice on the job. It’s not surprising that the Tire & Lube Express workers would turn away from union representation after Wal-Mart’s actions in Canada,” said Joe Hansen, UFCW International President.
“Wal-Mart is the richest corporation in the world, yet cowers in fear of a unified workforce. It is reprehensible that this giant corporation would drag out a union election process for nearly five years, drive union supporters out and strike fear into the hearts of workers who simply asked for the opportunity to participate in a democratic process at work,” continued Hansen.
The UFCW has launched a campaign to mobilize workers and community members to send a strong message to hold Wal-Mart accountable for its anti-worker actions. To get involved with the UFCW campaign and to sign on to the electronic petition, visit www.ufcw.org
April 28, 2004
Today, we mourn for workers who needlessly lost their lives on the job this year. We also mourn for the loss of workplace protections and safety regulations killed by the anti-worker Bush Administration.
This is an administration that goes out of its way to hurt workers. President Bush’s first major legislative action upon taking office was to sign legislation repealing OSHA’s ergonomics standard. This important worker safeguard, issued in November 2000, was ten years in the making and would have prevented hundreds of thousands of workplace injuries a year.
Today we also honor the workers who have been killed and injured on the job and their families. Last week, a UFCW member—a young worker from Guatemala—was killed working in a poultry plant. Thousands of workers, particularly immigrant workers, risk serious and sometimes fatal injury at work in workplaces such as poultry and meatpacking plants. No worker should be forced to risk their life to put food on the table for America’s families.
The UFCW is encouraged by actions such as those by Senator Edward Kennedy who is working to strengthen worker safety by introducing a bill this week that will expand protections for workers under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Senator Kennedy’s bill includes a mandate that employers pay for safety gear they require workers to wear. The Bush Administration has so far refused to complete and issue this standard. It will also strengthen penalties against employers who kill or seriously injure workers by willfully violating OSHA standards.
The Bush Administration has joined with business supporters to roll back, block, or stall needed worker protections. This Worker’s Memorial Day, the UFCW reiterates its commitment to electing a President that will put worker need before corporate greed.
August 4, 2003
(Washington, DC)–America’s most dangerous industries will most likely stay that way if OSHA continues to stall. The low-wage, predominantly Hispanic immigrant, workforce in meatpacking and poultry plants suffer the highest injury rates in the nation. Forced by their employers to pay for their own safety gear, such as mesh gloves, boots and even ear plugs, workers end up wearing it beyond its useful life, putting them at risk for serious injury.
The labor movement, in conjunction with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, is calling for the Secretary of Labor to act on the rule that mandates employer payment for personal protective equipment. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW)– joined by eight additional labor organizations–today, filed a petition with the Secretary of Labor to demand action within 60 days. This standard has been stalled at the agency for three years.
“”Many workers in these industries rely on personal protective equipment as virtually their only measure of protection. Workers should not be required to bear the cost of this basic protection.”” said Jackie Nowell, Director, Occupational Safety and Health Office, UFCW.
Nowell points out that workers in meat and poultry industries, for example, wear metal mesh gloves, which cost as much as $65, to prevent knife cuts and rubber boots to prevent falling on slippery floors.
In 1999, members of the UFCW and other unions offered real world testimony that without a requirement for employer payment, equipment was often improperly selected, poorly maintained and used beyond its useful life, putting workers at risk of injury.
“”Low-wage workers are most acutely in need of the protection offered by the rule. In the higher wage industries, most employers routinely supply all required safety gear free of charge.”” said Nowell.
Despite the clear demonstrated need and support for this requirement, the rule was not finalized and has lain dormant for three years. The rule has repeatedly slipped off OSHA’s Regulatory Agenda, and most recently was listed as a long-term action with the notation “”Next Action Undetermined.””
“”It is shocking and irresponsible that the Department can move so fast to cut overtime pay for workers through regulations, but won’t move a simple job safety regulation that has been waiting for years,”” said Patricia Scarcelli, International Vice President and Director of the Legislative and Political Affairs Department. “”This simple rule can help to improve the day-to-day lives of thousands of immigrant workers. And it is sitting there waiting for Secretary Chao to give the word.””