Last week, the UFCW praised the new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) response to the recent March 2021 federal district court ruling about pork plant line speeds. This ruling found that the Trump Administration acted unlawfully when it eliminated limits on pork plant line speeds without considering the increased risk of injury to workers, and the Biden Administration’s USDA response makes it clear that the USDA is moving to comply with the court ruling on the safety risks of pork plant line speed increases.
The UFCW International led the federal lawsuit that prompted this district court ruling on pork plant line speeds. Joining the UFCW International in the lawsuit were Public Citizen, as well as UFCW Local 663 in Minnesota, UFCW Local 440 in Iowa, and UFCW Local 2 in Kansas.
The March 2021 federal district court ruling was issued in United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local No. 663 v. U.S. Department of Agriculture, in which the Public Citizen Litigation Group represented the UFCW locals and UFCW International, which represents 33,000 workers in the pork processing industry.
The court held that USDA acted arbitrarily and capriciously when it refused to consider the impact of eliminating line speeds on worker health and safety in a rule it issued creating the “New Swine Inspection System” (NSIS) in October 2019. The court also rejected the meatpacking industry’s arguments that increased line speeds do not put workers at increased risk of harm, citing mounds of evidence showing a relationship between high speeds and musculoskeletal injuries, lacerations, and amputations. The court vacated the provision of NSIS that eliminates line speed limits, but placed its order on hold for 90 days to allow the USDA time to develop a plan with respect to those plants that have converted to NSIS.
“President Biden made a commitment to strengthen safety protections for America’s meatpacking workers on the front lines of this pandemic,” said UFCW International President Marc Perrone in a statement. “With today’s USDA statement, the Biden Administration is reaffirming its commitment to worker safety.”
“As the union for our nation’s frontline pork plant workers, the UFCW applauds the USDA’s decision to respect the district court’s ruling,” Perrone added. “The court recognized that the USDA must consider worker safety, and it is well known that dangerous production speeds increase the risks of injury to workers. The UFCW is calling on CEOs across the pork industry to work with the USDA to slow their line speeds. The safety of America’s frontline food workers must never again take a backseat to corporate profits.”