The UFCW and five local unions represented by Public Citizen Litigation Group filed a federal lawsuit on July 28 to end the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) waivers allowing poultry plants to increase production line speeds and further endanger workers already facing elevated risks during the COVID-19 pandemic. The five local unions that are plaintiffs in this case – UFCW Locals 227, 1529, 1995, 2008 and RWDSU Mid-South Council – represent more than 35,000 poultry workers at processing plants in Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Indiana, Mississippi and Missouri.
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.
“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 in a statement. “As COVID-19 continues to infect thousands of meatpacking workers, it is stunning that the 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.”
The UFCW and Public Citizen have been leading the national effort to pressure 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, the UFCW and Public Citizen filed a federal lawsuit to challenge the USDA’s rule allowing pork plants to increase line speeds.
You can read the full text of the lawsuit that was filed on July 28 here.