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Poultry Workers, Already at Risk From COVID-19, Sue USDA Over Dangerous Line Speeds

UFCW Press Releases -

 America’s Largest Meatpacking Union, Public Citizen Demand End to USDA Waivers Allowing Dangerous Poultry Line Speeds

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) and five of its local unions represented by Public Citizen Litigation Group filed a federal lawsuit to end the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) waivers allowing poultry plants to increase production line speeds and further endanger workers already facing elevated risks during the COVID-19 pandemic. UFCW represents more than 250,000 workers across the meatpacking and food processing industries.

The plaintiffs argue that the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) waiver program should be set aside and 10 currently active waivers should be voided. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, alleges that the USDA failed to follow required procedures and ignored the agency’s own rules and policies when it adopted the waiver program. Click here to read the text of today’s lawsuit.

“America’s poultry workers have been on the frontlines of this pandemic since day one, putting themselves in harm’s way to make sure our families have the food we need during this crisis,” said UFCW International President Marc Perrone. “As COVID-19 continues to infect thousands of meatpacking workers, it is stunning that USDA is further endangering these workers by allowing poultry companies to increase line speeds to dangerous new levels that increase the risk of injury and make social distancing next to impossible. This lawsuit will help to finally stop this dangerous corporate giveaway from the USDA. Now more than ever, we must put the safety of frontline workers and our country’s food supply first.”

“The law is clear that an agency must follow proper procedures when adopting a new program and must consider and address all relevant factors, including its own prior positions on the same issue,”said Nandan Joshi, the Public Citizen attorney serving as lead counsel on the case. “FSIS did not follow these basic rules when it decided to allow more poultry plants to exceed the agency’s own regulatory line speed limits.”

Background:

UFCW recently announced that in the first 100 days of COVID-19, there have already been at least 65 meatpacking worker deaths and 14,214 meatpacking workers infected or exposed. April saw the biggest spike in new COVID-19 meatpacking cases with 8,632 workers infected or exposed. May was the deadliest month for the industry with 38 worker deaths last month alone.

The five local unions who are plaintiffs in this case – UFCW Local 227, UFCW Local 1529, UFCW Local 1995, UFCW Local 2008 and Retail, Wholesale And Department Store Union – Mid South Council – represent more than 35,000 poultry workers at processing plants in Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Indiana, Mississippi and Missouri.

UFCW and Public Citizen have been leading national voices calling on the USDA to strengthen corporate oversight in meatpacking and increase safeguards to protect workers and ensure our country’s food supply is secure. In July 2020, UFCW announced its support for new legislation in Congress to roll back dangerous line speed increases across the meatpacking industry. And in October 2019, UFCW and Public Citizen filed a federal lawsuit to challenge the USDA’s rule allowing pork plants to increase line speeds.

Poultry Worker Safety

Poultry processing poses a wide range of risks to workers, including musculoskeletal problems – such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis and “trigger finger” – and acute physical injuries, such as sprains, lacerations, contusions and amputations. Federal and private research, as well as the experiences of poultry workers, show that an increase in work pace caused by faster line speeds increases the risk of injury to workers.

USDA Regulation of Poultry Industry

In April 2020 alone, FSIS approved 15 waivers allowing poultry plants to increase their maximum line speed. These waivers do not protect our food supply, but they create greater risk of worker injury, including increased risk of catching and spreading the virus as workers are forced to crowd together to keep pace with faster processing speeds.

In 2014, FSIS adopted a rule that set the maximum line speed in poultry plants at 140 birds per minute. At that time, FSIS acknowledged the extensive rulemaking record demonstrating that faster line speeds can increase the harm to poultry plant workers. In 2017, the National Chicken Council, a trade association that lobbies for the chicken industry, asked FSIS to lift line speed limits entirely. Although FSIS declined that request, it stated that it would grant more waivers that allow plants to operate at up to 175 birds per minute.

FSIS announced the waiver program in early 2018 but did not follow proper procedures when adopting that program. The Administrative Procedure Act requires an agency to give the public prior notice and an opportunity to comment before adopting a new rule. Instead, FSIS created the program behind closed doors. FSIS justified the program as a way to allow plants to experiment with new technology – even though increasing line speed is not a new technology. FSIS failed to adequately explain why the new waiver program was needed or why the program ignores the worker safety concerns that FSIS had previously acknowledged.

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The UFCW is the largest private sector union in the United States, representing 1.3 million professionals and their families in healthcare, grocery stores, meatpacking, food processing, retail shops and other industries. Our members serve our communities in all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico. Learn more about the UFCW at ufcw.org

Deadline for $2,500 OFL Scholarship fast approaching – Apply now!

UFCW Canada -

Toronto – July 28, 2020 – The deadline for the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) / American Income Life (AIL) Jack Layton Scholarship, which includes two awards at $2,500 each, is rapidly approaching on August 24. UFCW Canada members and full-time post-secondary students in Ontario are welcome and encouraged to apply in advance of the deadline.

Canadian singer-songwriter, Sarah Harmer, performing Facebook concert session in support of “CARE NOT PROFITS” advocacy campaign to reinvest profits back into the long-term care system

Unifor -

July 27, 2020

TORONTO — On Thursday, July 30 at 8:00pm EDT, Canadian singer-songwriter, Sarah Harmer, will perform a Facebook Live concert session in support of the “Care Not Profits” advocacy campaign to end for-profit long-term care delivery in Ontario. The platinum selling artist is adding her voice to the growing chorus of families demanding an end to the for-profit long-term care system that witnessed millions of dollars of profits flow to private shareholders while workers and seniors suffered and died during the pandemic. The virtual performance will invite fans to add their name to a petition to Premier Ford at www.carenotprofits.ca.

QUOTES:

“I’m angry that the profit motive was brought into our provincial long-term care system, and now private companies are profiting from neglect. I support these healthcare workers, their unions and the elderly people in our communities. We need a better long-term care system now.” - Sarah Harmer, artist, activist.

“Sarah Harmer is lifting up this campaign with her voice, its inspiring. Premier Ford can no longer ignore the growing number of families calling for an end to for-profit long-term care. Healthcare workers and families need better work and care conditions more than corporations need bigger profits. It’s that simple.” – Sharleen Stewart, President, SEIU Healthcare

“It’s a testament to the power of this campaign that we’re able to partner with artists who value seniors and their care givers and who are willing to lend their voice and talents to this important cause. Because of partnerships like this and the overwhelming support from our communities, we can win an end to for-profit care.” – Candace Rennick, Secretary-Treasurer, CUPE Ontario

“We are honoured our joint union call to action has inspired a great Canadian artist like Sarah Harmer to use her voice in support of long-term care residents and workers. The call to end for-profit long-term care is about where our society places value - the dignity of people must always come before profits. The more voices joining the call to end for-profit care, the harder it will be for Doug Ford to ignore.” – Jerry Dias, National President, Unifor

BACKGROUND ON THE “CARE NOT PROFITS” CAMPAIGN:

During the COVID-19 crisis, Ontario’s worst hit nursing homes were all for-profit facilities. Data tells us that for-profit long-term care corporations have 17 per cent fewer staff than non-profit nursing homes. Yet, while families and care staff were dying throughout the pandemic, three of the largest long-term care businesses combined paid shareholders more than $58 million in dividends in the past three months alone. These are facts.

The new, 60-second ad called “Care not Profits” launched during the Toronto Blue Jays season opener on July 24th against the Tampa Bay Rays.

To view the ad and learn more, visit carenotprofits.ca

The full, high-definition broadcast from this morning’s campaign launch, including the 60-second ad, is available for media to download here: https://bit.ly/39lxVfU

For media inquiries, contact:

Corey Johnson

SEIU Healthcare

c.johnson@seiuhealthcare.ca

416-529-8909



Daniel Tseghay

CUPE Communications

dtseghay@cupe.ca

647-220-9739



Shelley Amyotte

Unifor Communications

shelley.amyotte@unifor.org

902-717-7491

Deal reached for PSAC-UTE members

PSAC -

In a victory for members at the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) who have gone above and beyond to support Canadians during this pandemic, PSAC-UTE has reached a tentative agreement that provides ...

Unifor members ratify major gains at Fairmont Hotel Vancouver

Unifor -

VANCOUVER—Members of Unifor Local 4275 overwhelmingly ratified a three-year contract that offers greater job protection during uncertain times in the hospitality industry.

“Unifor is a union for hospitality workers,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “The protections brokered in this collective agreement give greater income security to workers that have been so deeply affected by the pandemic.”

The new agreement increases the temporary recall period from 12 months to 18 months. This extension provides certainly for jobs during a time where other hotels are refusing to extend these provisions. Economic gains in the contract include wage increases of more than two per cent as well as stronger retirement incentives. 

“Unifor members in the hospitality sector enjoy a path to economic stability and retirement security,” said Kevin Quinn, Local 4275 president. “I’m proud to represent workers who are driving up the standard for hotel workers across the province.”

Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector, representing 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy. The union advocates for all working people and their rights, fights for equality and social justice in Canada and abroad, and strives to create progressive change for a better future.

To arrange for interviews, in-person or via Skype/Facetime, please contact Unifor Communications Representative Ian Boyko at ian.boyko@unifor.org or 778-903-6549 (cell).

Federal government looking at subsidizing privatization

NUPGE -

“Using social finance schemes like social impact bonds to privatize community and social services means funding that is desperately needed to help the most vulnerable people in our communities will end up in the pockets of lawyers, consultants and other intermediaries,” — Larry Brown, NUPGE President

Women journalists experience increased gender inequality during pandemic

Unifor -

July 24, 2020

TORONTO – Women journalists are reporting an increase in gender inequality during the COVID-19 pandemic, as more than half say they have personally experienced an escalation in a new International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) survey released today.

“The expectations and pressures are not divided equally. Clearly women journalists are bearing the brunt of the impact of this pandemic, as are women across industrial sectors,” said Unifor National President Jerry Dias. “Media outlets and unions alike must make gender equality a priority in their pandemic plans.”

The IFJ survey, which polled 558 women journalists in 52 countries, found the increase in gender inequalities have led to devastating consequences on their work/life balance (62%), and work responsibilities (42%).

Among Canadian respondents almost 6 out of 10 said that COVID-19 has increased gender inequalities in the industry, with 8 out of 10 reporting an increase in stress due to lack of childcare, managing multiple duties while working from home, fear and psychological impact of covering the pandemic and concern over loss of work or income.

Unifor joins the IFJ, the world's largest organization of professional journalists, in its demand that media companies and trade union organizations take concrete steps to provide women workers with decent working conditions.

Unifor has launched a membership survey on the impact of working at home on all media workers, to investigate priorities and determine needs.

“Our union will be engaging with members, media employers and governments to address gender inequality and to push for action on priorities including access to childcare for these essential workers,” said Lana Payne, former journalist and the first woman elected as Unifor National Secretary-Treasurer.

The survey also found that as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic:

  • Over ¾ of respondents saw their level of stress increase, half of them pointing at multiple tasking as the main cause;
  • More than half of the respondents said their health had been affected which resulted for almost ¾ of them in sleeping problems;
  • More than half of the respondents said unions have not developed any specific strategies to tackle gender inequalities during the pandemic;
  • A third of respondents report they worked “mainly from home” and another third has worked mainly in the office. 15% worked mostly in the field;

The IFJ survey was conducted between 19 -30 June.

Unifor is Canada's largest union in the private sector and represents 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy. The union advocates for all working people and their rights, fights for equality and social justice in Canada and abroad, and strives to create progressive change for a better future. Information about the union’s response to the pandemic, as well as resources for members can be found at unifor.org/COVID19

For media inquiries or to arrange a Skype or Zoom interview with Jerry Dias please contact Unifor Communications Representative Kathleen O’Keefe at kathleen.okeefe@unifor.org or 416-896-3303 (cell).

 

Dominion store workers deliver overwhelming strike mandate

Unifor -

July 24, 2020

ST. JOHN’S – Unifor members at Dominion grocery stores across Newfoundland have delivered an overwhelming 94% strike mandate, after negotiations with Loblaw Companies Limited have failed to produce a new collective agreement.

“These frontline workers have stepped up to serve their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic but Dominion continues to deny them full-time jobs and fair pay,” said Unifor National President Jerry Dias.

The union has set a strike deadline a week from today at 12:01 a.m. Friday July 31, 2020.

“Last year Dominion cut 60 full-time positions at stores in Newfoundland while its parent company Loblaw raked in more than $1 billion in net profits,” said Carolyn Wrice, President of Unifor Local 597. “Now Loblaw has stripped pandemic pay from these essential workers despite the ongoing risk of COVID-19 while they refuse to offer a fair wage increase during contract negotiations.”

Yesterday, Loblaw announced $162 million in second quarter net profits, bringing total 2020 profits to nearly half a billion dollars and likely on pace to break the $1 billion profit mark by year’s end.

“Sadly, the company used its quarterly results as an opportunity to blame the $2 pandemic pay and COVID-19 protective equipment for frontline workers as an excuse for a dip in the corporation’s overall net profit,” said Dias. “It speaks to the sheer greed of Loblaw management that they begrudge a meager increase for workers that make less than $15 an hour for the most part despite the fact that sales at its grocery stores increased a whopping 10% over last year.”

“We want to thank the public for their unwavering support during the pandemic and we ask them to stand by us as we seek secure jobs, decent wages and better working conditions at Dominion stores across Newfoundland,” said Wrice. “There is still an opportunity for Loblaw to do the right thing and come to the table with a decent offer that shows these workers the respect that they deserve.”

Unifor is Canada's largest union in the private sector and represents 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy. The union advocates for all working people and their rights, fights for equality and social justice in Canada and abroad, and strives to create progressive change for a better future.

For media inquiries or to arrange a Skype or Zoom interview with Jerry Dias please contact Unifor Communications Representative Kathleen O’Keefe at kathleen.okeefe@unifor.org or 416-896-3303 (cell).

 

EB group reaches tentative agreement

PSAC -

PSAC has reached a tentative agreement that provides increases to wages, no concessions, and improved working conditions for nearly 1,000 members of the Education and Library Science (EB) group under Treasury Board. In addition to these successful...

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