On July 9, the UFCW announced its support for the Safe Line Speeds in COVID-19 Act, which would impose safe line speed limits at meatpacking plants to ensure worker safety and social distancing. This legislation, which was introduced by U.S. Representatives Marcia Fudge (Ohio-11), Rosa DeLauro (Conn.-03), and Bennie G. Thompson (Miss.-02), comes at a critical moment for the U.S. food supply chain as the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak continues to impact meatpacking plants and workers across the country.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has repeatedly attempted to remove line speed limits in pork and poultry plants, increasing the risk to both workers and food safety. Even as the COVID-19 pandemic threatens the country’s food supply chain, the USDA has continued to grant waivers that allow plants to run faster and endanger more workers.
“America’s meatpacking 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,” said UFCW International Marc Perrone in a statement. “As COVID-19 continues to put our country’s meatpacking workers at risk, we must take action to reduce line speeds in these plants to ensure workers can maintain social distancing and stay safe on the job. This bill is a critical step to reining in the dangerously fast line speeds at so many meatpacking plants and will put the safety of workers and our country’s food supply first. Congress must pass this vital legislation immediately.”
The members of Congress who introduced this legislation also underscored the need to keep frontline workers at meatpacking plants safe, especially during a global health crisis.
“The meat and poultry processing industry has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic, with infection hotspots appearing in plants across the country,” said Representative Fudge. “Fast line speeds make the dangerous conditions workers at these plants already face even worse by packing them closer together and placing them at greater risk of contracting or spreading the virus. Waiving limits on processing speeds also threatens the safety of our food supply. As COVID-19 cases continue to soar at processing plants, we must prioritize worker, food, and animal safety over increased production and profits.”
“For years, USDA has been complicit in the consolidation of the meat processing industry by gifting line speed waivers to corporate meatpackers at the expense of worker safety, the livelihoods of farmers and ranchers, and the safety of the nation’s meat supply,” said Representative DeLauro. “The high-profile COVID-19 outbreaks at meatpacking plants have raised questions of the safety of the conditions inside these plants. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, these workers experienced injuries at a higher rate than comparable occupations. And now, faster line speeds make it impossible for workers to practice social distancing and to comply with safety guidelines. That is why I am proud to join the leadership shown by Representative Fudge in introducing this legislation that will reign in these reckless line speed waivers for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency.”
“It is imperative that we ensure worker safety on slaughter lines,” said Representative Thompson. “Safety cannot be exchanged for high production. During this unprecedented time of COVID-19, we should take the necessary precautions to ensure employees are safe while working at meat and poultry establishments.”
In addition to supporting the Safe Line Speeds in COVID-19 Act, the UFCW is continuing to pursue litigation to maintain line speed limits in pork plants nationwide and prevent companies from further jeopardizing the health and safety of the nation’s food supply chain with dangerous increases to production speeds.