Every day, meatpacking workers in the U.S. face brutal working conditions in one of the most dangerous jobs in America. Injury rates are startlingly high – more than double that of U.S. manufacturing as a whole – and a 2005 GAO report found that even these government statistics undercount true injury rates. The industry’s massive disassembly lines can slaughter and process 400 head of livestock per hour, forcing workers to maintain intensely high rates of speed in their work – in often cold conditions, with slippery floors, and electric knives. Dangerous work conditions can also lead to unsafe food. Just last year, for example, Nebraska Beef recalled 1.2 million pounds of beef products. The truth is that safe and healthy workplaces produce safe food.
In an effort to secure fair treatment for U.S. meatpacking workers, Nebraska Appleseed works with our partners in the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights (MCHR), a network of 44 advocacy organizations, service providers, and university-based human rights centers collaborating to promote and protect human rights in the Midwest region, in the U.S., and internationally. The MCHR just held its quarterly meeting in Chicago last week. Check out the MCHR’s website at http://www.midwesthumanrights.org and click the link “Worker’s Rights” to find out more about holding the meatpacking industry to basic Nebraska and Midwestern community standards.
We are excited about the possibility of real reform and tougher workplace enforcement on the federal level through the new Administration. We applaud the appointment of Jordan Barab to be the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health. Mr. Barab served as special assistant to the assistant director of labor for OSHA from 1998 to 2001, where he crafted new ergonomics standards to combat musculoskeletal injuries. Unfortunately, these standards were repealed by the Bush Administration in March 2001.
We and our allies look forward to working with state and federal officials to ensure safe working conditions for our communities’ meatpacking workers as well as a safe food supply for all Americans.