WASHINGTON – US Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and US Representative Ro Khanna of California announced legislation aimed at strengthening workplace protections for workers at meat and poultry processing plants.
Khanna said the COVID-19 pandemic revealed that the food system isn’t working for workers, farmers and ranchers, animals, and consumers. “The COVID-19 pandemic publicly exposed the dangerous conditions that meatpackers employed by large multinational corporations face, but this has been a problem for a long time,” Khanna said.
The Protecting America’s Meatpacking Workers Act would:
- Prevent the Secretary of Agriculture from issuing line speeds waivers unless meat and poultry plants agree to a USDA inspection which must show that an increase in line speeds will not adversely impact worker safety;
- Establish occupational safety and health standards to protect employees in meat and poultry plants;
- Implement a regional emphasis inspection program for meat and poultry plants which will cover multiple aspects of worker safety including amputation hazards, ergonomics, and hazards related to line speeds, bathroom breaks, use of certain antimicrobials, and temperatures of work sites;
- Allow meat or poultry plant employees the ability to authorize a representative, who may be a member of a worker-based community group, to accompany physical inspections;
- Strengthen existing protections against retaliation from employers when employees refuse to perform work duties under conditions of reasonable apprehension and sets up a system wherein employees may file a complaint in the event retaliation has occurred; and
- Establish a standardized, publicly available, reporting process for use during pandemics, which will require meat or poultry plants to report the number of employees who have become ill, their racial demographics, and their employment status.
“As we sit down with family and friends this Thanksgiving, let it also be a day of gratitude for the workers who have worked tirelessly to ensure we have food on our tables,” Booker said. “Unfortunately, meatpacking workers, including those processing the turkeys on the plates of many Americans this week, often face exploitative and dangerous work conditions.
“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,” he continued. “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.”
The proposed legislation would also require that all grants funded under the Agricultural Marketing Service of USDA for expanded meat and poultry processing include labor peace agreements and prohibiting small processing plants that received a grant from being sold to meat and poultry packers with more than 10% of market share for a period of 10 years; restore mandatory country of origin labeling and strengthen the Packers & Stockyards Act.
Unions and worker advocates applauded the legislation.
“Corporate monopoly power strangles all hope of opportunity whether you are the worker, farmer or rancher, or a rural business. This legislation gives us common ground to take on our common enemy,” said Joe Maxwell, president of Family Farm Action Alliance. “We are thankful to the members of Congress who have filed this sweeping anti-monopoly legislation.”
Marc Perrone, international president, United Food & Commercial Workers International Union, said, “America’s meatpacking and food processing workers have put their health on the line every day of this pandemic to ensure our families can put food on the table. These hard-working men and women on the frontlines of our food supply chain deserve safe workplaces.”