January 11, 2022
Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture Flickr
Washington — Legislation recently introduced in the House and Senate is aimed at improving working conditions and whistleblower protections in the meat and poultry processing industry.
Under the Protecting America’s Meatpacking Workers Act (S. 3285), introduced by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) on Nov. 30, specific occupational safety and health standards would be established to protect workers in meat and poultry processing plants. In addition, an OSHA Regional Emphasis Program would be created to address worker safety issues such as amputation hazards, ergonomics, hazards related to line speeds, use of chemicals, and working conditions in high and low temperatures.
The legislation also would:
- Strengthen current protections against employer retaliation when workers refuse to perform job duties under “reasonable apprehension.”
- Create a standardized, publicly available reporting process during pandemics requiring facilities to report the number of workers who have become ill, along with their racial demographics and employment status.
- Allow facilities to designate a worker representative to accompany physical inspections.
- Establish new funding for OSHA inspectors.
- Prohibit the agriculture secretary from issuing processing line speed waivers before facilities agree to a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection that shows a line speed increase “would not have an adverse impact on worker safety.”
A companion bill in the House (H.R. 6250) – sponsored by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) – was introduced Dec. 13 and referred to the Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee on Jan. 4. In a press release, Booker contends that meatpacking workers “often face exploitative and dangerous work conditions.”
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He adds: “We must end this era of abusive practices and begin to ensure that all workers, farmers and ranchers have a safe and fair opportunity to earn a living. The Protecting America’s Meatpacking Workers Act would provide essential protections to meatpacking workers and is a critical piece in transforming our food system to one that is rooted in resilience, fairness and justice.”
In a separate release, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union President Marc Perrone said U.S. consumers “deserve to know that their food is safe, made here in the United States and comes from American workers who are protected on the job.”