News and Updates
May 30, 2012
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 email@example.com.
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?
February 11, 2012
Early in November of 2011, the UFCW hosted the IUF Global Meat Conference in Omaha, Nebraska. The IUF is a global union of meat and food workers
The global meat market is an industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars, and it is currently dominated by a few companies whose power and reach are growing year after year. With the consolidation of these companies, workers in meat plants face both local and global challenges. We are all familiar with local challenges: inadequate crewing at higher line speeds, disregard for ergonomics and safety, improper handling of hazardous materials like ammonia, wage and benefits cuts, etc.
Globalization brings its own set of challenges. As companies compete in global markets, they devise new systems and strategies to increase profits and reduce costs. These systems are often designed in corporate offices, far away from the plants. Engineers arrive at plants with blueprints and equipment; they install new machines and systems, but their involvement stops once the installation is done.
“Come Friday at 3:30 in the afternoon, these engineers are gone,” says Dan Riesner, a UFCW steward from Local 222 who works a combined job at the Gelita plant in Iowa. “When management comes back and does its inspection tour on Monday morning, they see that things are working, but they don’t really understand the amount of effort and the number of people it took to keep things running during the weekend, once the engineers left. There is no support and no follow-through. They leave us holding the bag and these changes have a very negative effect on job performance.”
Unionized workers in the U.S. have the protection of good contracts and government agencies such as the NLRB, but workers in other countries have to deal with indifferent governments and abusive managers. When global companies promote these managers and relocate them for new positions in the U.S., our rights are in jeopardy. These managers are used to abusing workers and ignoring safety concerns. Not only that, they are used to getting away with it. So once they are relocated to our plants, they will try to impose their practices on our brothers and sisters.
But in a global market information and opportunities flow both ways. As Dan explains, “when workers from other countries reach our plants, we have the opportunity to educate them and share the values of our own labor movement. Once they experience the difference in working conditions in our plants, we should encourage them to share with their own families abroad. If companies are going to import their abusive practices, we should be able to export our values.”
January 31, 2012
Early in November of 2011, the UFCW hosted a Global Meat Conference for meat packing workers from all over the world in Omaha, Nebraska. The two-day conference focused on the challenges workers face with the growth and consolidation of international meat companies like JBS and Cargill.
Thanks to consolidation and globalization, just a handful of companies dominate this billion dollar industry, and their power is growing year after year. That means challenges for workers who want to share in the success of their companies – whether those workers are in the U.S., Brazil, Japan or any other country.
Meat packing and food processing workers face the same basic challenges all over the world: inadequate crewing, disregard for ergonomics and safety, improper handling of hazardous materials like ammonia, downward pressure on wages and benefits, and a lack of dignity on the job.
Unfortunately, globalization and consolidation don’t necessarily raise standards for workers – the opposite is often true. For instance, at the Global Meat Conference, workers from all over the world met each other to speak and compare working conditions. They discovered that although they may share the same employer or parent company, their working conditions could be markedly different. For instance, workers from the U.S. or Australia may have strong union contracts, but workers in other countries are systematically denied bathroom breaks, or forced to work for weeks without a day off. They also learned that companies in every corner of the globe work to systematically deny workers who want a voice on the job from joining together with their co-workers in a union.
If companies like JBS, Tyson, and Cargill are global in their scope, our union must act globally, too. That is why UFCW members are communicating and coordinating with workers who belong to other meat packing unions around the world. We are routinely meeting; sharing information and developments; and coordinating on contract language that prevents exploitative or dangerous practices. These are effective ways to build the power that lets us negotiate better contracts and raise the working and living standards for everyone who works in this industry – both in the U.S. and abroad.
Dan Riesner is a UFCW steward from Local 222 in Iowa who works at the Gelita plant in Sergeant Bluff. He is tasked with the maceration of beef bones in acid, and assigned to the operation of a wash tank. The experience meeting workers in his industry from all over the globe really drove home to him how important it is for workers to band together, even across international borders.
“By sharing information with each other, union workers can learn about strategies and tactics that are effective in pressuring companies to come to the table and agree to fair, respectful working conditions,” Riesner said.
“It’s been a real eye-opener. Our strong union contracts mean we have it pretty good here in the U.S., comparatively, but we can’t take it for granted. If we don’t want consolidation and globalization to bite us – we need to kick up our efforts to organize and to stick together when we bargain.”
December 11, 2010
Food workers across the country are on the front lines of food safety. The work we do every day determines whether or not the country’s food supply will be safe. That is a responsibility we take seriously as UFCW stewards. The fact is, union plants are safer plants, and safer plants produce safer food. Having a voice on the job, and having stewards in the workplace, assures that we produce only the safest food.
Our union contract means we can speak out if we see something going wrong or jeopardizing food quality, without having to fear negative consequences – so only the highest quality food leaves our plants. It also means we can slow down the breakneck pace of production, and ensure proper staffing – factors that reduce on-the-job injuries and even further improve food safety. Workers who don’t have a union sadly do not have those same assurances.
“I see it as our duty to speak up if we see something going wrong in the plant. If we don’t make food safety our number one priority, everyone suffers. Bad food puts our families, and everyone’s families at risk. It also put our jobs on the line. If the public turns against our industry, it’s our jobs that get destroyed,” said Joel Elder, a UFCW Local 38 steward who has worked at ConAgra for 22 years.
It’s our responsibility as stewards to make sure that our coworkers feel comfortable enough at work to come forward and speak up if they see something unsafe going on. We must, above all, see to it that all of our brothers and sisters in the industry understand the high stakes of food safety and take seriously their active role in ensuring the quality of food we produce.
As stewards, as leaders, our responsibilities don’t end at the plant gates. The UFCW is leading our industry in pushing for food safety legislation at the federal level and at home in our states. We have to be active in that process so our lawmakers know we stand behind stronger food safety laws. Because we know that union plants produce safer food, we should also be involved in organizing more workplaces throughout our industry. The more food workers that come together in our union, the more power we can build at the bargaining table and the more leverage we will have to push for stronger food safety legislation. That will make food safer for all Americans. That’s something we can make happen by getting involved in organizing with our union.
“I’m proud to be part of a union that takes leadership in our industry, a union that looks out not only for those of us in the plant, but for everyone in our communities by making sure our food is safe,” said Elder. “One of the best ways I know to keep working to make our food even safer is to reach out to our colleagues in non-union plants and show them everything they have to gain by joining together with us in the UFCW.”
To learn more about how our union is working to ensure worker safety and food safety, visit www.FairnessForFoodWorkers.org.
April 8, 2010
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 11, 2009
Once the election results were posted, Gene Muff was relieved and happy. He knew it was a time to celebrate, because change was coming to his plant.
Muff, a member of UFCW Local 271, works at an Americold Logistics plant in Crete, Nebraska. Last summer, workers at his plant voted overwhelmingly to ratify their first ever union contract, which provides them with solid wages and benefit increases.
Muff has been involved with the UFCW since the beginning of the organizing campaign.
“I told my coworkers we needed to join the union so we would get better treatment at the plant. That when we are united we are stronger, so that way they couldn’t bully us around anymore,” he said.
After workers voted in favor of having union representation, Muff joined the bargaining committee. With the help of the UFCW, workers at the plant fought to get the best possible contract.
“During our contract negotiations, safety was a big issue, hours were a big issue,” Muff said. “We had to bargain for better wages and benefits.”
Muff explained that negotiations were difficult since “the company was very hardheaded throughout the first year. Afterwards, the company realized we weren’t going to give up. Then, they got down to business.”
With unity, strength and fortitude, workers at Americold negotiated a good first contract.
“When we ratified the contract my coworkers were very happy,” said Muff.
“When they saw the final contract for the first time, they realized that the entire wait was worth it. It was worth standing together and standing up to the company, because we made our lives much better.”
Now workers at Americold are part of the more than 250,000 workers in the poultry and meatpacking industries nationwide who have a union contract with the UFCW.
“This contract gives us wages that protect full-time, family-supporting jobs in our community,” Muff said.
The new Americold contract includes:
- Average wage increases of $1.44/hr for the first year and an additional 30 cents per hour for the next four years;
- A formal system to resolve workplace issues;
- Time and a half pay for holiday work;
- Night shift premium wages;
- Affordable family health coverage;
- Job advancement opportunities based on seniority; and,
- Funeral leave and paid vacation benefits.
“We got lower costs for health care. We got guaranteed wage increases. Now we’re able to stand up as one, and have a strong voice when we need to talk to management,” he said.
Muff said they owe this contract to the support they received from all the UFCW members across the country.
“I believe everyone in our local and in the UFCW was behind me and my fellow workers the whole time,” he said. “When we stand together we can make a very big difference.”
He added that workers at Americold support workers at other plants who are at the bargaining table. He had some advice for them:
“I would like to tell other workers who are trying to get their first contract that they should stick with it. The more you stand together the stronger you are and the better it is going to be in the long run. Your company might try to pull all different kinds of tactics on you, to make you feel like you made a bad decision in joining the union, but it’s worth it, because it can only make your life better.”
April 8, 2008
Luis Rosiles, a Tyson Foods worker and steward for Local 1546, has found his calling as an organizer in training for the UFCW’s Heartland Campaign. Rosiles is part of a coordinated effort to target thousands of non-union packing and processing workers in the Midwest who need a voice on the job. The new campaign is serving as a training ground for organizers like Rosiles, and the UFCW hopes to use the Heartland Campaign as a model for other UFCW organizers across the country.
Rosiles is on leave from his job as a worker at the Tyson Foods plant in Joslin, Illinois, where he served as a steward for Local 1546. As a steward, Rosiles served as a significant link and conduit of information between union leadership and the workers at the Tyson Foods plant in Joslin, and had the advantage of knowing many of his fellow workers. His new role as an organizer in the state of Nebraska presents the challenge of meeting and connecting with workers he has never met before and who may not be familiar with the benefits of joining a union.
“Some have a little bit of knowledge, some don’t,” said Rosiles. “That’s what drives me—winning campaigns and helping people be united at work.
The changing demographics of the packing and processing industries have also posed a challenge for Rosiles, and many of the plants that he is working with in Nebraska have attracted immigrant workers from around the world. Many of the immigrant workers he has approached are afraid of losing their jobs or unsure of their rights as workers in the U.S. To counter that fear and uncertainty, Rosiles and other organizers have made a point to connect with workers outside of the workplace by visiting their places of worship and even their homes to show that the union is part of the larger community.
Rosiles believes that his experience as a steward has helped him hone his skills as an organizer, and encourages other UFCW stewards to get involved with organizing campaigns such as the Heartland Campaign in the Midwest.
“We need more leadership and people getting involved in plants,” said Rosiles. “That’s what makes a union strong.”
For more information about the UFCW’s effort to provide workers with better wages and benefits in America’s Heartland and around the country, visit www.fairnessforfoodworkers.org.