This week, Thanksgiving is upon us, and it also happens to be International Food Workers Week. It’s a time when we should be celebrating and giving thanks to all, but especially to those that work to provide the food we feast on during this holiday.
Unfortunately, right now, “government officials are moving forward with plans to privatize some poultry inspections at chicken and turkey slaughter plants in a manner that could compromise worker and consumer safety”, reports an In These Times article. Rather than use government officials, some poultry companies will now conduct poultry inspections with individuals directly hired by them. Additionally, the speed of inspections will be allowed to increase, meaning slaughter line speeds will “be increased from 32 turkeys per minute to 55 birds per minute, with similar increases for other poultry. That’s too fast to do proper inspections for signs of disease or other health problems in the birds,” according to Ken Ward, a retired veteran of the USDA, “and could lead to unsafe food being shipped out to local supermarkets and butcher shops.”
This USDA pilot program “seems rigged to provide financial benefits to the producing companies while putting food safety at a lower priority” says one top lobbyist from a food safety advocacy group. He notes that in order to correct the problem, we must create new legislation to ensure food and worker safety is not ignored.
Over 65,000 UFCW members work in the meatpacking industry, including the poultry sector. If the plans go through, our members are at risk of ailments that have been associated with increased line speeds, including musculoskeletal disorders like carpal tunnel syndrome. The UFCW is calling for further study on the worker safety elements of the USDA proposal before it goes forward.
“The hardworking people who produce our food should be protected from dangerous conditions that lead to avoidable injuries,” says another activist, Tom Fritzsche. “The current system may be profitable for the poultry companies, but it relies on systematic exploitation of workers. Now, regulators are about to make conditions even more hazardous.”
Last week, in a press conference, “former turkey plant worker Esmundo Juarez Carranza endorsed efforts to stop the USDA plan and issued a plea for better treatment of poultry workers. Carranza says he was unfairly fired from his job at a Cargill turkey slaughter facility in Springdale, Ark. after leaving his post on the production line to use the bathroom without first getting permission from supervisors.” Carranza and his coworkers “suffered from low pay, onerous working conditions and abusive managers. As the poultry producers strive to maintain fast line speeds, he says, they’re subjecting workers to tighter restrictions—and often disregarding the workers’ emotional and physical well-being.”
With a union, workers can stand together to fight for better working conditions at poultry plants. Workers like Esmundo Carranza don’t deserve to be treated like animals, simply because the company values profit over people. UFCW members are continuing to support legislation that will ensure safety first for the workers and protect consumers. Together, we can ensure food-workers are treated with the respect they deserve.