Even without COVID-19, meat and poultry processing work is dangerous and done in close quarters. With the deadly coronavirus, it’s no surprise that meat- and poultry-processing plants became one of the virus hotspots. Over a little more than a year, tens of thousands of meat and poultry processing workers have been infected and hundreds have died.
Yet throughout the entire pandemic, meat and poultry processing workers and federal inspectors have been required to continue to work, initially with little or no protection against the virus. Federal inspectors, for example, had to buy their own safety equipment and were told to return to work even after being exposed to COVID-19.
Today, profit-driven meat and poultry plants remain a dangerous place for contracting COVID-19 because workers stand close together on processing lines to meet production goals, making it difficult to socially distance.
Workers and our families pay the ultimate price: more than 57,000 meat and poultry processing workers have contracted COVID-19. At least 284 have died. As of May last year, nearly 200 Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) inspectors tested positive, and at least seven died. During the prior administration, FSIS stopped providing the numbers.
It is past time for us to take action to make conditions safer for meat and poultry processing workers. That’s why AFGE supports a new bill that has just been introduced in the House and Senate that would make meat and poultry processing plants safer for both workers and inspectors.
The bill, the Safe Line Speeds During COVID-19 Act, introduced by Senator Cory Booker (S. 713) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (H.R. 1815), would reduce line speeds, allowing workers to space out and work at a safer distance.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has made the already dangerous job of working in meat and poultry processing plants even more dangerous,” said AFGE National President Everett Kelley. “I applaud Senator Cory Booker and Representative Rosa DeLauro for their leadership in introducing legislation to protect the health and safety of federal meat and poultry inspectors, plant workers, and consumers.”
The bill would also roll back, at least temporarily, the new dangerous inspection systems in meat and poultry processing plants that put meat and poultry producers in charge of their own food safety inspections, instead of federally trained inspectors.
AFGE had voiced our opposition against both increasing line speeds and removing federal inspectors from meat and poultry production lines when the systems were introduced over the past few years.