Last light, Stone Steps © Robert Sommers 2023

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Cry me a porkchop

Preston Keres - USDA

National pork producers are plenty sore because the Biden Administration is slowing down line speeds in the slaughterhouses by 2.5%. Pork producers say the judge’s ruling would force plants already operating at faster speeds to return to the previous maximum line speed of 1,106 hogs per hour, significantly less than the 1,450 hogs per hour some plants were processing. They say this will be disastrous for American farmers, who had been honestly allowed to run hog wild during the Trump presidency.

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 25, 2021 – Left unchallenged, a recent federal district court ruling will result in a 2.5 percent loss in pork packing plant capacity nationwide, and more than $80 million in reduced income for small U.S. hog farmers, according to an analysis by Dr. Dermot Hayes, an economist with Iowa State University. The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) is urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to intervene before the ruling takes effect at the end of next month. The ruling will dramatically reduce hog farmer market power—particularly smaller producers located near impacted plants—and undermine pork industry competition.

I am sorry but I can't shed a tear for these people. Their porcine behavior has been downright piggish. Their actions during Covid were barbaric. The workforce said time and time again that they were suffering repetitive stress injuries and worse and could not work at the speed they were being pushed. In 2019, the swinish louts Trump and Sonny Perdue took a cleaver to maximum line speeds.

In a Sept. 17 press release, Sarah Sorscher, deputy director of regulatory affairs at watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest, urged Congress to “block implementation of the final rule until that investigation is complete and the agency has identified adequate measures to prevent the rule from negatively impacting food safety, worker health and animal welfare.”

Reacting to the White House Office of Management and Budget’s completion of its review of the final rule on Sept. 13, Debbie Berkowitz, director of workplace health and safety programs at the National Employment Law Project, tweeted the next day that “Big meat won.”

“[The White House] just cleared the USDA’s radical rule privatizing food safety inspections and allowing dangerous increases in slaughterhouse factory line speeds – injuring workers,” wrote Berkowitz, whose organization also questioned the validity of USDA’s analysis. “Stunning that OMB cleared the rule when there are ongoing [inspector general] investigations.”

This month, a study from Human Rights Watch cited OSHA data showing that “a worker in the meat and poultry industry lost a body part or was sent to the hospital for in-patient treatment about every other day between 2015 and 2018.”

HRW interviewed 49 current and former workers in meat- and poultry-processing plants for the study. Ignacio Davalos, a worker at a pork-processing plant in Crete, NE, said faster line speeds will only increase the demand during hazardous work. “We’ve already gone from the line of exhaustion to the line of pain,” Davalos told HRW. “When we’re dead and buried, our bones will keep hurting.”

Things of course, got worse the last year and a half. Covid was rampant, see this and this. Yet Trump and OSHA chose to look the other way. In fact, as Covid set in, line speeds were actually increased by the Trump Administration and worker protections trampled on.

Because workers are expendable, especially hispanic workers who don't speak english real well. There is currently a House investigation into the problem.

A U.S. House subcommittee is investigating coronavirus outbreaks at meatpacking plants, citing the deaths of more than 250 employees nationwide and accusing the Trump administration of failing to enforce worker safety laws.

Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, announced the probe in a press release on Monday. He said he sent letters requesting documents from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, part of the Department of Labor, as well as three of the country's largest meatpacking companies: Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods and JBS USA.

"Public reports indicate that under the Trump Administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) failed to adequately carry out its responsibility for enforcing worker safety laws at meatpacking plants across the country, resulting in preventable infections and deaths," Chairman Clyburn wrote to the agency. "It is imperative that the previous Administration's shortcomings are swiftly identified and rectified to save lives in the months before coronavirus vaccinations are available for all Americans."

Clyburn said that despite thousands of confirmed infections at meatpacking plants across the country, OSHA under the Trump administration issued only eight citations and less than $80,000 in penalties for coronavirus-related violations.

Nearly 54,000 workers at 569 plants have tested positive for COVID-19, and at least 270 have died, according to the Food and Environment Reporting Network. Many meatpacking employees are Black, Hispanic and/or from low-income households, the release notes, meaning they come from vulnerable communities that have been hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic.

"Public reports indicate that meatpacking companies ... have refused to take basic precautions to protect their workers, many of whom earn extremely low wages and lack adequate paid leave, and have shown a callous disregard for workers' health," Clyburn wrote, adding that outbreaks at meatpacking plants also take a toll on the surrounding community.

It is easy to see the writing on the wall; Minorities are plainly expendable, we must get that bacon and sausage out, no matter what the cost in human lives. Not like it is hurting those good heartland Americans, the majority of people hurt are poor immigrants and honestly, who in the hell is going to miss them? They should be happy to have a job and do the dirty work and just shut the hell up.

Thankfully the Biden administration actually cares more about workers than an industry that for too long has lived high on the hog. President Joe Biden instructed OSHA, on his second day in office, to study whether it should implement an emergency temporary standard, which unions and labor experts said would make it easier to hold employers accountable.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union International, which represents 33,000 workers in the pork processing industry, welcomed the decision.

“President Biden made a commitment to strengthen safety protections for America’s meatpacking workers on the frontlines of this pandemic. With today’s USDA statement, the Biden administration is reaffirming its commitment to worker safety,” union president Marc Perrone said Wednesday.

The USDA's decision followed a March 31 ruling by U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen, who had considered a lawsuit filed by the union and found the USDA acted arbitrarily and capriciously when it refused to consider the impact of faster line speeds on worker safety. Ericksen ordered the rule to be vacated but delayed the effective date for 90 days to give the USDA and the industry “time to prepare for any operational change.”

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