***For Immediate Release***
February 6, 2023
Sierra Salgado Pirigyi
Communications Director, Nebraska Appleseed
O: (402) 438-8853 x 116
Community, Worker, and Farmer Groups Welcome Meatpacking Legislation
Federal bill reintroduced that would support Nebraska families, farmers, and food
NEBRASKA – Last week, the Protecting America’s Meatpacking Workers Act and a package of related bills were reintroduced in Congress to make our food system more resilient, fair, and safe – with long-overdue safety protections for people who work in large-scale meat and poultry processing plants and fair-market reforms to support local farmers and ranchers.
Public concern has continued to grow related to large-scale meat and poultry companies’ dangerous plant conditions – including decades of high injury rates, deaths during COVID, and recent confirmation of numerous children working overnight cleaning shifts – as well as unfair market control that harms farmers and producers.
“Our parents care about the quality of the food they process for everyone’s tables, and we care about the safety of our parents,” said Dulce Castañeda of Children of Smithfield. “Inhumanly fast processing lines cause painful injuries and serious food safety risks – and the industry pressures fall heavily on local farmers and ranchers as well. On all sides, Nebraska communities will be well served by this legislation.”
“Nebraska Farmers Union supports legislative efforts to provide safe workplaces for meatpacking workers, and ag market reforms to increase competition and transparency,” said John K. Hansen, President of Nebraska Farmers Union. “We applaud Senator Booker’s efforts to combine fairer treatment for food producers and food processing workers. It represents a good start on both fronts.”
“This bill is so important for local Nebraska communities. We live in communities with large numbers of permanently injured people and the numbers keep growing,” said Olga Guevara, Executive Director of Unity in Action in South Sioux City. “Meatpacking safety protections will help keep community members safe, which keeps our communities strong.”
“For twenty years, I have met moms and dads who can no longer hold their child, young men who never expected to be disabled at the age of 30, and so many people with damaged hands and shoulders who can no longer perform daily tasks,” said Gloria Sarmiento, Senior Community Organizer with Nebraska Appleseed. “It’s time to prevent this for Nebraska families and communities.”
“The UFCW Local 293 welcomes this important bill,” said Eric Reeder, President of the UFCW Local 293. “Things like coming home safe at the end of the workday and reliable bathroom access should be a basic part of processing the nation’s food. Unfortunately it’s not, and this bill will help get us there.”
Examples of protections included in the bill are:
- A requirement for OSHA to finalize safety protections to prevent meat and poultry worker amputations and musculoskeletal injuries common from dangerously fast line speeds, insufficient staffing, and other factors.
- A requirement for packing plants to ensure sufficient toilets and bathroom access without punishment.
- Prevention of the line-speed waivers that have allowed large-scale processors to further increase speeds, creating serious food and worker safety risks.
- Strengthening the Packers & Stockyards Act to support local farmers, ranchers, and local food systems.
- Government Accountability Office reports on racial and ethnic disparities in meat and poultry processing, fragility in the nation’s food system, and line speeds.
The full text of the legislation can be viewed here. More information about the package of bills can be found here.
The meat and poultry industry has a decades-long record of high injury rates, as documented in community, medical, academic, and government studies, such as:
- “No somos máquinas” (We are not machines): Worker perspectives of safety culture in meatpacking plants in the Midwest (American J of Industrial Medicine 2020),
- When We’re Dead and Buried Our Bones Will Keep Hurting (Human Rights Watch 2019),
- No Relief: Denial of Bathroom Breaks in the Poultry Industry (Oxfam 2016),
- GAO: Additional Data Needed to Address Continued Hazards in the Meat and Poultry Industry (Government Accountability Office 2017),
- Lives on the Line: The High Human Cost of Chicken (Oxfam 2015),
- NIOSH Health Hazard Evaluation of a poultry processing plant (National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health 2014),
- Petition for Work Speed Protections to OSHA and USDA (Southern Poverty Law Center, Nebraska Appleseed, Heartland Workers Center, and other worker and civil rights organizations, 2013),
- Unsafe at These Speeds (Southern Poverty Law Center 2013),
- Always Working Beyond the Capacity of Our Bodies (Midwest Coalition for Human Rights 2012),
- The Speed Kills You: The Voice of Nebraska’s Meatpacking Workers (Nebraska Appleseed 2009), and
- Blood, Sweat and Fear: Workers’ Rights in US Meat and Poultry Plants (Human Rights Watch 2005).
A large number of Nebraska community, worker, faith, public health, and farmer organizations across the state have worked for many years to improve packing plant safety as well as fair markets to support local producers. Additional contacts available for comment on packing plant conditions and injuries include: ACLU of Nebraska, GC RESOLVE, Nebraska State AFL-CIO, Solidarity with Packing Plant Workers, SOMOSgi of Grand Island, and others.