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    News and Updates


May 30, 2012

Staying Informed and Updated on Your Plant’s Ammonia Safety Program

Several of our UFCW members who work in meatpacking, poultry and food processing plants spend their days working around refrigeration systems that use ammonia – a Highly Hazardous chemical. It is easy and important for stewards to find out if their company is complying with OSHA’s standards about how to operate safely with Highly Hazardous chemicals. The main standard is Process Safety Management (PSM). PSM gives workers and their representatives the right to ask for information about the ammonia system.

OSHA’s PSM Standard applies to most meat packing, poultry, and food processing plants. One PSM requirement is that the company must conduct an audit of their compliance every three years. Stewards can request to see the recommendations from the past two audits and find out what actions have been taken. By looking at the audit results and the follow-up stewards can see if the company is taking their PSM seriously.

“When I was sent out for training, I received a lot of information about PSM that I realized could be helpful to not only me, but also my co-workers at the plant,” said Jim Oldenburg, a steward at JBS and a member of UFCW Local 1473 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Even though every worker at the plant cannot receive specialized PSM training, workers do have the right to stay informed about their plant’s PSM program and come to their stewards with questions or concerns. To help his co-workers at the plant, Oldenburg submitted a list of PSM questions and responses to the company. These questions were developed by the Industrial Refrigeration Consortium at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

“People look to me to help them and I’m doing everything that I can for them every day. Having this information available is just one of them,” said Oldenburg.

Here are the ten questions Jim submitted to management. According to the PSM standard your company must respond adequately to your concerns. Their responses to these questions can give you a sense of the condition of your plant’s ammonia safety program. If you need help evaluating the company’s response you can email the UFCW Health and Safety Representative for Process Safety Management at bthielen@ufcw.org.

1. When was our last compliance audit?

2. Can you show me the closeout of recommendations from the last compliance audit?

3.  Can you provide me a copy of the most recent incident report and documentation that shows how we closed out recommendations/from the incident report?

4.  When was our last Process Hazard Analysis (PHA) conducted and can you show me documentation that closes out the recommendations from the last PHA?

5. How often do we certify our plant’s written operating procedures for the covered process?

6.   What training program do we have for our operators and what are the means used to verify they have understood the training?

7.   How often do we do refresher training?

8.       Based on our plant’s mechanical integrity program, what is the next piece of equipment scheduled for retirement and when is it scheduled to come out of service?

9.  What criteria do we use to evaluate contractors that work on our covered process?

10.  What was the last change made to our system and can you show me the documentation for that change?


May 8, 2012

Market Basket Enforcement Shows OSHA is on the Right Track

WASHINGTON – The almost $600,000 settlement announced Monday between the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and DeMoulas Super Markets Inc., commonly known as Market Basket, is a step forward for the safety of retail workers everywhere. The settlement requires safety fixes at all of the company’s more than 60 stores across Massachusetts and New Hampshire, along with real safety programs for workers going forward.

“It’s critical that OSHA continues to take company-wide actions like these to protect workers,” said Jackie Nowell, Director of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Occupational Safety and Health Office. “Rather than addressing problems with employers like Market Basket piecemeal and leaving workers at risk – OSHA can make real changes to systematic problems that occur across an entire company.”

The enforcement action came after repeat safety violations by the company – including two serious injuries to Market Basket workers in almost-identical falls from unguarded storage areas in two different stores. Workers at Market Basket don’t have a union at their work, making it harder to stand up for safer stores.

“This new enforcement program clearly shows that when OSHA finally gets tough with bad-actor employers, workers get better protection – far faster than waiting on empty promises by corporate executives to comply with our basic safety laws,” said Nowell. “We hope the Obama Administration will continue using these new tools to give all workers – especially the many retail workers who don’t yet have a union – a safe place to work.”

April 20, 2012


WASHINGTON, D.C.Joe Hansen, International President of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), released the following statement regarding the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) decision to extend the comment period on its proposed poultry inspection rule.

“The UFCW applauds Secretary Tom Vilsack’s decision to extend the comment period on USDA’s proposed poultry inspection rule in order to further study its impact on worker safety. We have said all along that this rule should be halted until it is proven that increased line speeds are safe for workers. The UFCW will use this 30-day extension to work directly with USDA, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the Obama Administration to determine a course of action to study the probable effects of increased line speeds on worker health and safety. Today is a victory for all poultry workers who can rest assured that their safety on the job is being taken seriously.”


April 11, 2012


WASHINGTON, DC—The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) today announced its opposition to a Big Poultry-driven inspection process being considered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The proposed rule, which would increase the speed that birds are processed from 70-91 a minute to a maximum of 175 a minute, could put workers at poultry plants in increased danger.

“Increased line speeds means increased bottom lines for Big Poultry,” said Mark Laurtisen, UFCW International Vice President and Director of the Food Processing, Packing and Manufacturing Division. “For workers, it means more danger on the job.”

By increasing line speed so dramatically, workers will be at heightened risk of repetitive motion related injuries. In fact, a recent study by Wake Forest University showed that 59 percent of poultry workers had definite or possible carpal tunnel syndrome at current line speeds. Despite these alarming statistics, no comprehensive effort has been made to determine the impact this proposed system will have on the health and safety of workers.

“Quite frankly, it is no surprise that Big Poultry wants to rush this new system into operation,” Lauritsen said. “That’s why USDA—as the responsible regulator—must slow this process down until it can guarantee that workers are protected.”

The UFCW is calling on USDA to halt this rule until the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conducts comprehensive studies on the impact it would have on the health and safety of workers in poultry plants. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) must then use that information to develop a standard that would adequately protect workers.

Many UFCW members have already submitted their opposition to USDA in advance of the April 26 comment deadline. The UFCW will continue its push for worker safety into the summer and beyond.


April 28, 2011


Today, on Workers’ Memorial Day, the UFCW will join workers in the U.S. and around the world to honor the thousands of workers who have been killed on the job and the millions of workers who have suffered from injuries, sickness or diseases in their places of work.   This year’s memorial day marks the 40th anniversary of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the right of workers to a safe workplace, as well as the 100th anniversary of one of the worst workplace disasters to take place in our country.


One hundred years ago, on March 25, 1911, a fire spread through the cramped floors of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City.  When the workers—mostly young female immigrants—tried to escape, they encountered locked doors and broken fire escapes.  Rather than be burned alive, the workers began jumping out of windows and fell to their deaths on the street below as bystanders watched in horror.  That terrible tragedy, which took the lives of 146 workers, served as a catalyst for major labor reforms and changed the way we work and live.


A century later, the fight to protect workers continues amid anti-union legislation that is sweeping though the country.  Just three years ago, managers at the Imperial Sugar Company in Port Wentworth, Georgia—one of the few non-union plants in the industry—tolerated dirty and dangerous worksite conditions, and 15 workers without a collective voice died in a massive fire and explosion.  Twenty years ago, 25 poultry workers at the Imperial Foods plant in Hamlet, North Carolina, were locked inside by their bosses and died in a horrible fire.  Like the Triangle workers, they had no other voice to demand safety.  Indeed, we just saw the worst mining disaster in 40 years, as the executives at the Massey coal mine in Montcoal, West Virginia, told their subordinates to put production first before any other job duties. Surviving workers testified to the rampant fear that effectively suppressed complaints in a company that had viciously opposed unions for decades.


The right to a safe workplace was won after decades of struggle by workers and their unions. On Workers’ Memorial Day, we honor and pay tribute to the men and women who died at Imperial Sugar, Imperial Foods, Massey Energy and all the other dangerous workplaces.  In their memory, we renew our commitment to preventing such tragedies by supporting workers who are struggling to protect their basic rights–including safe jobs, workplace fairness, collective bargaining, freedom from discrimination and favoritism.


June 9, 2010

One Year After Tragedy in Garner, Safety Regulations Can

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The following is a statement from Jackie Nowell, Director of Occupational Safety and Health at the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union:

A year ago today – June 9, 2009 – it was a warm afternoon in Garner, North Carolina when a powerful explosion leveled the ConAgra Foods plant. A tragic error in judgment while installing a new water heater led an outside contractor to repeatedly release natural gas from a pipe into an enclosed room near the center of the building and an unknown spark set it ablaze.

The resulting explosion and toxic ammonia release killed four people and injured 70 others. It was a preventable tragedy that destroyed lives, livelihoods and a community of friends and neighbors. The United Food and Commercial Workers represented the more than 300 ConAgra workers affected by the blast and saw first-hand the devastation caused by this explosion.

Conflagrations like this one killed and injured workers from Missouri to Michigan, and yet no regulations existed to prevent contractors from purging gas lines into closed spaces. Working with authorities and experts from across the country we set about to change this. Our fight became marked by even greater urgency after five workers were killed in yet another gas purging explosion in Connecticut that February.

Along with the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, who investigated this explosion, we urged the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) – who provides safety codes for building contractors across the country – to adopt regulations that would prevent contractors from purging explosive gasses into enclosed spaces. But after heavy lobbying from the natural gas and propane industries, the NFPA wilted like old lettuce and failed to stand for the safety of America’s workers.

So here we are, one year later. The plant in Garner rather is scheduled to close, bringing a second round of devastation to the community. We know we can’t bring back these workers, these friends, these family members back to their community and their loved ones. The broken system at the NFPA has failed to learn from these tragedies and has bowed to industry pressure to let these deadly indoor gas purges continue unregulated.

This is frankly unacceptable. As Debra Petteway, a Food and Commercial Workers member who worked in the ConAgra plant and lost her son to the explosion said, “Louis Watson was my son, he was my only son, and now he’s gone. They didn’t have to die, and if someone doesn’t fix this, it’s going to happen again.”

Ms. Petteway is right. The NFPA, who is supposed to protect workers like her son, has shirked their duty.

So one year later, the “experts” charged with protecting America’s workers have failed to learn from this tragedy or from the legions before or after. How much longer will we wait with no regulatory or legislative action for the safety of American workers? The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and our legislators must not wait for these quasi-governmental regulatory bodies to demonstrate their craven kowtowing to industry demands any longer. We need comprehensive legislative or OSHA regulation so that the lessons of those who gave their lives in these explosions are not forgotten and all those that come later are protected from a similar fate.

May 11, 2010

Summer Water Can Be Dangerous in Stores and Warehouses

With rising temperatures and increased consumer demand, grocery stores, supermarkets, pharmacies, and the warehouses that supply them are moving and selling ever-increasing volumes of bottled water. When palletized, these products can pose significant risks to workers in our industry as a recent deadly tragedy illustrates.

In mid-March, a Kroger employee working in the back room of a store in Franklin, Ind. was crushed by falling pallets of water. Five days after the accident, the employee died. The Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigated the accident and fined Kroger $17,000 for unsafe working conditions. This tragic incident and others like it are preventable – especially if UFCW members and locals take action for safety today.

When you are at work or a worksite, here are some things to look for:

  • Don’t transport double stacked pallets beyond the distance necessary to remove them from a truck. Double-stacked pallets are inherently unstable, and when they have liquids (like bottled water) as cargo, they often exceed the safe weight limits for forklifts.
  • Avoid double stacking pallets when storing them.
  • Carefully monitor the stability of pallets at all times.
  • Don’t attempt to straighten pallets that have begun to shift. Unload the pallet instead.
  • Maintain a clear safety area around pallets when they are being moved.
  • All forklift operators or other powered-equipment operators must be trained and certified. This is an OSHA requirement – check for proper recordkeeping.

Palletized bottled water is especially dangerous because of the high volume moved, the heavy weight involved, and increasingly thin plastic causing cases to be unstable. In addition, the limited amount of floor space in the back of grocery stores often leads to water or other heavy unstable products, being stacked higher than safety permits.

Kroger and UFCW Indiana locals have learned from the tragic accident in Franklin and are actively working to prevent future injuries or deaths. We urge you to do the same before something similar happens in your stores.

April 8, 2010

OSHA 300 Logs: An Important Tool To Improve Safety and Ensure Accountability


Safety is one of the most important issues at any plant. Preventing injuries at the workplace is about identifying hazards and getting them fixed, and stewards play a particularly important role in making sure this happens.
Many workers are already familiar with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a division within the U.S. Department of Labor that sets and enforces safety standards in the workplace.
These standards are the law and employers are required to comply with them. Among these requirements is the OSHA Form 300. Most employers with 10 or more full-time employees are required to file this form, which is a yearly log of work-related injuries.
Miguel Luna, a steward from UFCW Local 2, works in a plant in Guymon, Okla. He has been an active member of his plant’s safety committee for more than four years.
“I joined the safety committee to help to keep my coworkers safe. Together with other members, we have helped to improve safety at the plant. The OSHA 300 logs are fundamental for our mission. They help a lot,” Luna said.
OSHA mandates that employers record all new cases of work-related fatalities, injuries and illnesses if they involve death, time away from work, restricted work, transfer from another job, medical treatment beyond first aid, loss of consciousness, or a significant injury or illness diagnosed by a physician or other licensed health care professional.
“An OSHA 300 log is where companies record the injuries that occur at the workplace,” said Luna. “By law, they have to report all the injuries to OSHA.”
The OSHA law gives workers and their unions the right to have access to injury logs.


Stewards, workers, and supervisors can use the OSHA 300 logs to help to improve safety in a food processing or meatpacking plant.
“At our plant, our safety committee meets once a month. We talk about how to improve safety at our plant,” said Luna. “The OSHA logs are very useful for those
of us on the committee, because we can see if we need to improve safety in one area or if we can do something different.”
Luna added that there have been several instances when the OSHA logs have helped the committee to improve safety at the plant.


“For example, if we see in the logs  that many injuries are occurring on the line due to an ergonomic issue, then we look into what is causing that issue, we investigate, and once we have reached a conclusion, we meet with the plant’s safety director,” he said.
Unfortunately, in some instances, workplace injuries are being under-counted. This year OSHA has enacted an enforcement program to review the logs and make certain that employers record all injuries.
Luna said that stewards play an important role in making sure employers keep the log current.
“As stewards, we have to review the logs to make sure injuries are being recorded in an accurate and proper way,” he said. “I recommend that stewards stay on top of things and check the logs on a regular basis.”
He said that if a steward suspects that an injury has been inaccurately reported in the OSHA logs, the best way to solve any discrepancy is to talk to the injured worker, get the facts, and talk to the plant’s safety manager or supervisors to try to clarify the issues.
For Luna, the most important thing to do if an injury occurs is to make sure that the affected worker fully recovers.
“Stewards should check back with the injured worker and follow up throughout his or her recovery. We have to support each other and that means making sure injured workers get the proper treatment,” he added.

December 8, 2009

New OSHA Administrator David Michaels Confirmed

The U.S. Senate has confirmed David Michaels as the new OSHA Administrator.

Michaels was nominated by President Obama earlier this year. He is an epidemiologist and professor at the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services. He has conducted many studies on the occupational exposure to toxic chemicals, and has served as assistant secretary of energy for Environment, Safety and Health.

This is the first time, since the previous administrator’s resignation in 2008 that OSHA once again has a permanent administrator.

November 16, 2009

GAO Report Clear: OSHA Must Focus on Workers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – “Today, a new report by the Government Accountability Office reveals that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) frequently undercounts injuries to American workers, and reveals a complete and systemic failure in the way that OSHA tracks workplace injuries.

“The report also revealed a convoluted and ineffective system of injury reporting that allows companies to pressure workers, supervisors and medical professionals to underreport workplace injuries. Corporations cannot be allowed to continue practices that promote the illusion of safety by blaming workers instead of unsafe working conditions.

“Thousands of workers in America deal with workplace injuries everyday. This epidemic of suffering is damaging to the workers, their colleagues, their workplaces, and their families and the communities in which they live. American companies, especially those in the food processing industries, must stop contributing to this problem by pressuring and intimidating workers to keep silent about these problems.

“We must stop this epidemic – and it can’t be done without clear and accurate reporting of the injuries as they occur. Unfortunately, this GAO report makes clear current OSHA policies are centered on crunching numbers rather than getting the facts from workers. In fact, OSHA inspectors are not required to interview a single worker when auditing injury reports.

“Effective and comprehensive injury prevention must place workers and the worker voice at the center of the effort. Only when workers are meaningfully involved can we grasp the true scale of workplace injuries and implement meaningful regulations that make America’s workplaces safer.

“This report is a step in the right direction, and we’re glad that government is recognizing what the Charlotte Observer among others have already reported. However, now we must fix this problem. America’s corporations must be responsible and stop their deceptive reporting practices and better oversight and inspections by both federal and state OSHAs must ensure it.”