FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 04, 2002
Magda Lynn Seymour
John Irvine
(202) 639-6419

Federal Agency Responsible for Food Safety Thumbs its Nose at its Employees

(WASHINGTON, D.C.)--The Food and Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), the agency that oversees the safety of meat and poultry Americans eat, has thumbed its nose at its employees in an attempt to achieve temporary bargaining leverage during contract negotiations. FSIS employees are represented by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals.

In a letter sent to Delmar Jones, Chair of AFGE's Food Inspection Locals, FSIS announced its plans to unilaterally withdraw from contract provisions that affect how the parties will handle future relations throughout the agency. The January 28, 2002, letter tells AFGE to "consider [itself] on notice that the Agency has chosen to terminate ... Regional Agreements and the authority to bargain below the level of exclusive recognition ... Consultations at all levels throughout the Agency ... and Parallel Levels of Dealings."

"FSIS is displaying a profound disregard for employees and labor laws," says AFGE National President Bobby L. Harnage, Sr. "The parties have been negotiating a new contract using the steps required by the law, including binding interest arbitration and a pending negotiability determination by the Federal Labor Relations Authority. The rogue agency at the U.S. Department of Agriculture apparently does not feel compelled to comply with that law.

"FSIS wants the American public to think it has the capacity to guarantee the safety of meat on their tables by using a radically different version of what it calls 'food inspection' than consumers have had for 80 years. The same renegade approach is now being revealed in the way FSIS is trying to undercut the very employees who can best assure safety and wholesomeness," adds Harnage.

Harnage called on FSIS to step back from its plans and continue the status quo while the contract is finalized. AFGE represents over 5,300 federal meat and poultry inspectors.

AFGE is the largest union for government employees, representing 600,000 federal workers in the United States and overseas, as well as employees of the District of Columbia. To learn more about AFGE, log onto www.afge.org.

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