The hard job of a poultry plant worker is about to get harder, thanks to a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposal to increase processing speed by 25 % and replace most federal safety inspectors.
The proposed USDA increase means that instead of processing 140 birds a minute, workers will process 175 per minute. As part of the same proposal, most of the inspectors currently working the processing line will be removed and it will be the responsibility of the workers – who spend less than a second on each bird – to identify poultry that is unsafe for consumption.
Groups that represent poultry workers, such as the Coalition of Poultry Workers, a trade organization representing workers from seven plants in Mississippi, oppose the increase, arguing that safety measures are already lacking in plants and that poultry workers already suffer the effects of repetitive motion injuries from the plants’ current speeds. In a study of one poultry plant, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found 42% of workers were suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome and related ailments.
Fifteen organizations, including The Southern Policy Law Center, Farmworker Advocacy Network, and Coalition of Black Trade Unionists have filed a petition with the USDA and with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) calling for mandatory standards on line speeds to protect poultry and other meatpacking workers from work-related debilitating musculoskeletal injuries.
While OSHA has not responded (90 percent of the staff has been laid off by the shutdown) the USDA responded that it will “consider” available data before making any final decisions. You can read that response here.