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Unions sue USDA, fearing dangerous speed increases at pork processing plants

Pork processing workers
Workers process pork for packaging in Rantoul, Ill.
(Jose More / TNS)

The union representing workers at pork processing plants sued the federal government Monday, challenging a new rule that allows companies to set line speeds and give company employees, rather than federal inspectors, more food safety tasks.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and local unions in Minnesota, Iowa and Kansas joined with nonprofit consumer advocacy group Public Citizen to file the lawsuit in federal court in Minneapolis.

The lawsuit alleges that the new rule — announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and scheduled to take effect Dec. 2 — violates the Administrative Procedure Act because it isn’t backed by reasoned decision-making.

In an Illinois town where Abraham Lincoln once toiled as a country lawyer, the slaughterhouse of the future runs at a speed that generations of Midwestern farmers would have dismissed as fantasy.
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A spokeswoman for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service said her agency does not comment on pending litigation.

UFCW International President Marc Perrone said there was no evidence that line speed increases could be done in a manner that ensured food and worker safety.

“Increasing pork plant line speeds not only is a reckless giveaway to giant corporations, it will put thousands of workers in harm’s way,” the union leader said.

Swine slaughter workers regularly have reported extreme pressure to work as quickly as possible, which increases the risk of knife injuries; knee, back, shoulder and neck traumas; and repetitive motion injuries, including carpal tunnel syndrome, the union said in a statement.

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In June, the USDA’s Office of Inspector General launched an investigation into its rule-making procedure at the request of 17 members of Congress. Public Citizen and the UFCW are asking the court to block implementation of the rule and to set it aside.


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