Unions File Suit Against USDA Over Slaughterhouse Rule

Liz Carey

St. Paul, MN (WorkersCompensation.com) – Unions for food and commercial workers have filed a lawsuit against the federal government over what they feel are unsafe changes to swine slaughter practices.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, as well as UFCW Local 663, 440 and 2, filed suit in U.S. District Court in St. Paul against the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s swine slaughter modernization rules that eliminate line speeds at slaughterhouses.

The group, represented by Washington-based Public Citizen Litigation Group, said the new rule not only violates the Administrative Procedure Act because “it is not backed by reasoned decision-making,” but also puts slaughterhouse workers and the public at risk.

“The Rule entirely eliminates maximum line speeds and reduces the number of government-employed ‘online’ safety inspectors on the lines by 40 percent, instead allowing the plants to use their own employees—with no required training—to monitor compliance with health and safety standards,” the unions said in court filings.

The new rule, published last month, removes the speed limit to which hogs can be processed. According to the unions, the speed limit was previously set at processing the equivalent of 1,106 hogs per hour. But the new rule disregards comment from more than 6,500 UFCW members who testified that eliminating the speed limit would be dangerous, the lawsuit said.

“As thousands of commenters told USDA during the rulemaking process, the Rule will jeopardize the lives and safety of both consumers of pork products and workers like Plaintiffs’ members. Experts told USDA during the rulemaking that ‘there is no doubt that increasing line speed will increase laceration injuries to workers,’ and the elimination of a maximum line speed will ‘potentially cause an epidemic of disabling work-related MSDs [musculoskeletal disorders],’” the unions said in court filings. “Commenters provided the agency with dozens of peer-reviewed studies and other expert analyses that made it clear that eliminating maximum line speeds substantially increases the risk of injury to workers in swine slaughter and processing facilities, like Plaintiffs’ members.”

According to Bloomberg, the move would provide an annual savings of nearly $4 million for large processing plants. But unions argue it will increase the number of injured pork slaughterhouse workers.

“Increasing pork plant line speeds not only is a reckless giveaway to giant corporations, it will put thousands of workers in harm’s way. The safety of America’s food and workers is not for sale, and this lawsuit seeks to ensure this dangerous rule is set aside and these companies are held accountable,” Marc Perrone, president of UFCW, said in a statement.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, meatpacker and slaughterhouse workers already see injuries and illnesses at double the rate of employees in private businesses.

“In 2015, the animal slaughtering and processing industry reported 26,600 nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses,” according to the BLS. “In 4,910 of the cases, the worker missed 1 or more days away from work. Thirty-seven percent of these cases involved overexertion and bodily reaction. Another 13,300 cases involved job transfer or worker restriction. In 2013, 54 percent of the job transfer or restriction cases involved overexertion and bodily reaction. The rate of total recordable cases per 100 full-time workers was 5.4, higher than the rate for all private industry (3.0) and manufacturing (3.8). In addition, from 2011 to 2015, 73 workers were fatally injured in this industry; 34 percent of these fatal injuries were transportation incidents.”

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