A trio of Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation aimed at protecting meat processing plant workers during the pandemic.
Meat processing plants have become COVID-19 hotspots. To date, more than 30,000 meatpacking plant workers have tested positive for COVID-19 and more than 100 have died, according to the Food and Environment Reporting Network.
The legislation, the Safe Line Speeds in COVID-19 Act, would make several changes for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration, including:
- Suspending all active waivers issued by USDA related to line speeds at meat and poultry establishments and suspending USDA’s authority to issue new waivers in this area;
- Suspending implementation of, and conversion to, the New Swine Slaughter Inspection System established under USDA’s final rule published on Oct. 1, 2019, titled, Modernization of Swine Slaughter Inspection; and
- Prohibiting USDA from using federal funds to develop, proposed, finalize, issue, amend, or implement any policy, regulation, directive, constituent update, or any other agency program that would increase line speeds at meat and poultry establishments.
In addition, the legislation:
- Ensures the provisions of the bill are in addition to, not in lieu of, any state laws or regulations designed to further protect worker safety or animal welfare beyond what this bill provides;
- Requires the Government Accountability Office to review the effectiveness of various actions taken by USDA, the Department of Labor, the Department of Health and Human Services, and meat and poultry establishments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to protect animal, food, and worker safety; and
- Requires USDA, DOL, and HHS to issue a report to Congress by December 31, 2020, including their respective actions taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to protect animal, food, and worker safety.
Who introduced the legislation?
The Safe Line Speeds in COVID-19 Act was introduced July 9 by Reps. Marcia L. Fudge, D-Ohio; Rosa DeLauro, D-Connecticut, and Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi. Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, intends to introduce companion legislation in the Senate.
What do sponsors have to say about the legislation?
“Fast line speeds make the dangerous conditions workers at these plants already face even worse by packing them closer together and placing them at greater risk of contracting or spreading the virus," Fudge said. "Waiving limits on processing speeds also threatens the safety of our food supply. As COVID-19 cases continue to soar at processing plants, we must prioritize worker, food, and animal safety over increased production and profits.”
“For years, USDA has been complicit in the consolidation of the meat processing industry by gifting line speed waivers to corporate meatpackers at the expense of worker safety, the livelihoods of farmers and ranchers, and the safety of the nation’s meat supply,” DeLauro said. “Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, these workers experienced injuries at a higher rate than comparable occupations. And now, faster line speeds make it impossible for workers to practice social distancing and to comply with safety guidelines."
"It is imperative that we ensure worker safety on slaughter lines," Thompson said. "Safety cannot be exchanged for high production. During this unprecedented time of COVID-19, we should take the necessary precautions to ensure employees are safe while working at meat and poultry establishments."
“Since mid-March, outbreaks of COVID-19 have continued to surge in meatpacking plants across the country, infecting tens of thousands of workers and tragically killing more than 100,” Booker said. “The situation has only worsened since the USDA has approved nearly 20 requests from meatpacking plants to exceed regulatory limits on line speeds despite the risks posed to workers, consumers, and animal welfare. The USDA should be in the business of prioritizing worker and consumer safety over the profits of large multinational meatpacking corporations, not the other way around.”
What are others saying about the legislation?
“America's meatpacking workers have been on the frontlines of this pandemic since day one, putting themselves in harm's way to make sure our families have the food we need. As COVID-19 continues to put our country's meatpacking workers at risk, we must take action to reduce line speeds in these plants to ensure workers can maintain social distancing and stay safe on the job," said United Food and Commercial Workers International President Marc Perrone. “This bill is a critical step to reining in the dangerously fast line speeds at so many meatpacking plants and will put the safety of workers and our country's food supply first. Congress must pass this vital legislation immediately."