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How Increasing Poultry Line Speeds Could Make Chicken Unsafe to Eat

Oxfam estimates that each person eats 89 pounds of chicken a year – which means as a country, we’re eating close to 9 billion birds per year. It’s a major, multi-billion dollar industry that supplies us with chicken nuggets, wings, and the foundation for so many of our favorite, home-cooked meals.

It’s easy to cook, it’s affordable, and a mainstay in the meals American families share with one another.

But jobs inside poultry plants are some of the most dangerous and difficult in America. The National Chicken Council, which is the poultry industry’s main trade association and functions to represent its interests to Congress and other federal agencies, wants to do away with a key protection to keep workers safe on the job: line speeds.

Three Things You Should Know About Poultry Line Speeds

1.) By law, most poultry plants can run their processing lines at 140 birds per minute. That’s already insanely fast.

Federal law currently sets the line speed maximum at 140 birds per minute at most poultry facilities. To give you a sense of what that translates to in real life, that’s just a hair faster than the tempo for Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” except where each beat is a chicken.

On the line itself, one employee can process more than 14,000 chickens each day. Depending on the job, each worker can process around 35-45 birds per minute – which rounds out to about 2,000 chickens per hour or nearly one chicken every two seconds.

Some plants are even allowed to operate at 175 BPM (for background on why some plants are allowed to be faster than others and for more examples of songs that match different line speeds, check out this great article from The New Food Economy). There are few things that we do each and every day that can even compare to that level of repetition.

2.) As line speed increases, safety decreases. And they want to eliminate line speeds entirely.

While there’s currently a speed limit in poultry plants, the National Chicken Council wants to eliminate them entirely.

As line speeds increase, so does the risk of injury—including serious and bloody cuts and amputations.

But faster line speeds also mean less time for federal meat inspectors and quality control workers to do their jobs and ensure the chicken you’re eating is safe to consume.

Want a better idea how fast poultry lines could move if they eliminate line speed limits? Here’s what 200 BMP sounds like, which is how fast Germany already allows their plants to run (with negative side effects, as explained in #3):

3.) Faster line speed also means inspectors have less time to watch out for food safety issues. That should make anyone feel queasy. 

If current line speeds are eliminated, federal inspectors who are tasked with spotting contaminated birds may be forced to examine more than two per second for abscesses, tumors, or other diseases.

The National Chicken Council argues that increased line speeds will help modernize the system, and keep up with international competitors.

But countries which allow faster line speeds have more issues with food safety. Germany allows line speeds up to 200 BPM and their poultry meat is found to have higher levels of Salmonella and Campylobacter contamination.

Retired USDA food safety inspector Phyllis McKelvey spoke out about the dangers of increasing line speed in an interview with NPR earlier this year:

“These machines will pull the viscera, which is the guts of the chicken. And a lot of times the guts hang on their prongs and those machines just get covered up in guts, which is slinging manure all over the product,” she says.

In the live hang section, McKelvey said equipment failures would also occur in the stun bath, where birds are shocked with electricity. That would send fully conscious birds to a machine that would sever their necks.

“If the line is going too fast you have a lot of birds that don’t get stunned,” she says. “So you’ve got some birds going into the scald vats, alive.”

The USDA describes the new inspection system as more science-based in that it requires that all poultry facilities perform their own microbiological testing along with two federal inspectors. This leaves one inspector to view the carcasses.

But with fewer inspectors, McKelvey argues, plants are relying on more chemicals like peracetic acid or food bleach to reduce the chance of food contamination.

“And if they don’t have a proper air system, these chemicals are causing people to sneeze and cough. And even at that rate it gets so bad we’d have to shut the line down,” McKelvey says.

Here’s how you can take action to keep poultry workers safe on the job and chicken safe on your plate:

The USDA is currently accepting public comments on increasing line speed limits in poultry plants. Click here to submit your comment by December 13 and tell them we deserve safe food, and America’s poultry workers deserve safe workplaces. Tell the USDA today and to reject the National Chicken Council’s petition and keep safe line speed limits in poultry plants.

Originally posted on UFCW.org

Kroger Shop Steward Wins $250 in Back Pay for Coworker

Kristy Vance, a shop steward at a Kroger store in Blacksburg, poses for a photo with her coworker, Alex Taylor. Alex was awarded $250 in back pay after Kristy reported a manager doing work that should have been assigned to Alex.

For years now, Kristy Vance has seen managers, management trainees and loss prevention staff stocking shelves at her store, Kroger #402 in Blacksburg, Va. This not only violates the Kroger-Roanoke contract, which specifies that only bargaining unit members can stock shelves, but it also reduces the number of hours Local 400 members are scheduled to work. Kristy wasn’t going to tolerate it.

This fall, she took photos and documented 24 hours of management doing shelf-stocking. She sent the photos and evidence to her representative, Mark Collins, and filed a grievance against Kroger. The company could not dispute what happened and Local 400 won a back pay award for part-time associate Alex Taylor. He was the most senior part-timer and had only worked 16 hours during the week in question, so he received a check for $250, covering the extra hours he should have been assigned.

“Alex was grateful, but he said, ‘Wow, I don’t need this,’” Kristy recalled. “He was wanting to give it to someone who was older. That was really admirable of him, but this was his award because management took those hours away from him. And we sent a clear message that we are going to enforce our collective bargaining agreement.

“I’m really pleased we got results because this has been a long time coming,” Kristy said. “Whenever I raised this problem in the past and told them they have to give part-time workers the extra hours they need or pay full-time workers overtime, management would deny that they were stocking. I would take photos and they would claim it wasn’t proof. They kind of laughed us off. Not any more.”

After Kristy filed the grievance, a new manager was appointed for the store. Since then, Kristy has caught a few incidences of management doing bargaining unit work—which she continues to document—but the frequency is down. “We’re having an impact, but we’ve still got to be vigilant,” she said.

For Kristy, fighting back was hard. She had previously worked Kroger #192 in Galax, Va., just a few miles from her home in Fries. But after that store was closed, she was transferred to Blacksburg, 72 miles away. So she spends two and a half-hours each day commuting—or longer, when traffic is bad. As a result, she relies on her Local 400 sisters and brothers to document contract violations when she’s not there, and they played a central role in winning back pay for Alex.

In addition, Kristy and her co-workers spearheaded an arbitration case against Kroger charging the company with using courtesy clerks to perform work that can only be done by food clerks. “We’ve turned in the three violations,” Kristy said, “which would be enough to trigger the ‘three strikes’ clause, promote all courtesy clerks and eliminate the position in our store if we win in arbitration.

“I think all of these actions are showing everyone working in our store that their union is here to fight for them,” Kristy said. “We’re showing them that together we’re stronger, that divided we’re weak, and that if we come together, we can fight corporate America and get what we deserve—our pieces of the pie.”

Work at Kroger? Here’s How to Report Violations

Are managers doing work that should be assigned to a clerk? If you see a manager doing work that should be assigned to a clerk, click here to report the violation or talk to your shop steward.

Are courtesy clerks getting cheated at your store? If you work as a courtesy clerk, or if you see a courtesy clerk at your store doing work he or she shouldn’t have to do, click here to report the violation and a union representative will follow up with you.

Montgomery County Passes $15 Minimum Wage

Members of the Montgomery County Council were joined by County Executive Ike Leggett at a ceremony on Monday, November 13 where a $15 minimum wage was signed into law. Photo courtesy of 32BJ SEIU.

Today, at a ceremony in Rockville, county council members signed legislation to increase the minimum wage to $15 in Montgomery County, Maryland.

The council unanimously passed legislation last week to raise the wage to $15 per hour for businesses employing 51 or more workers by 2021, for businesses employing 11-50 employees by 2023, and for businesses employing 10 and fewer employees by 2024.

After it reaches $15/hour, the bill requires the minimum wage to be indexed to inflation, so wages will continue to rise without having to work to pass a new bill every few years!

The county joins neighboring Washington, D.C. in providing a $15 minimum wage. More than 100,000 Montgomery County workers earn minimum wage, currently $11.50/hour.

In Montgomery County today, a single worker without family responsibilities needs to earn more than $21 per hour just to meet basic needs. A worker raising children needs much more. A majority of the people earning minimum wage are women and people of color.

UFCW Local 400 was part of a coalition of organizations who led efforts to pass this legislation, including 32BJ SEIU,  CASA, Jews United for Justice, Progressive Maryland, AFL-CIO Labor Council, Maryland Working Families, and the National Employment Law Project (NELP). While the bill ultimately passed unanimously with the full support of the council, councilmembers Marc Elrich, Tom Hucker, Nancy Navarro, George Leventhal, and Hans Riemer championed the legislation from the very beginning.

Research has shown that overwhelmingly, cities that have raised the wage have not experienced job loss and the local economy continues to prosper. Moreover, a wage increase can reduce reliance on public assistance from a safety net that faces extreme cuts from the Trump administration, placing a heavier burden on local taxpayers.

Special Labor Night Performance of The Pajama Game

Update: Tickets are still available to the December 13 Labor Night at “The Pajama Game” at Arena Stage. Contact Isaac Evans directly at 202-600-4155 or email ievans@arenastage.org. They’re slightly more — $55 each — but you’ll still be in the labor group — now over 100! — and eligible to stay after the show for the Talk Back session with the cast.

The DC LaborFest is sponsoring a special Labor Night performance during the upcoming run of The Pajama Game at Arena Stage. The December 13 show will include a post-show “Talk Back” session with the cast.

The classic labor musical deals with labor troubles in a pajama factory, where workers’ demands for a seven-and-a-half cent raise are going unheeded, which resonates with the ongoing Fight for $15 and the federal wage freeze.

The Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory is a tiptop model of efficiency – so why are things getting so steamy? It could have something to do with how hard new superintendent Sid Sorokin has fallen for Babe Williams, the trouble-making head of the union grievance committee. Sparks really start to fly when a workers’ strike pits management against labor and ignites an outrageous battle of the sexes. Packed with seductive dance numbers like “Steam Heat” and “Hernando’s Hideaway,” the best way to ensure a good night’s rest during the hectic holiday season is to play The Pajama Game!

 

Apply Now for a $5,000 Scholarship from Ashcraft & Gerel

Did you know? As a member of Local 400, you have the chance to receive a $5,000 scholarship for you or an immediate family member.

For more than 30 years, the law firm of Ashcraft & Gerel, LLP has been offering union members and their families throughout the Washington, D.C. area the opportunity to alleviate the stressors that come with paying for the high cost of education.

Each year, the law firm awards a one-time grant of $5,000 to an eligible student for education expenses. That student could be you or an immediate family member!

To obtain your application, please contact Liliana Chang at 703-931-5500. Deadline to apply is March 23, 2018.

If you, your spouse or child, plan to pursue education or training full-time, we encourage you to apply. Please remember, all applicants must be enrolled for their post-high school education or training by Fall of 2017 to be eligible for this year’s award.

A committee of union volunteers screens the applications, and an independent party selects a finalist. No one at Ashcraft & Gerel, LLP participates in the selection process. This is an equal opportunity program, conducted without regard to race, gender, religion, age or disability.

If you have further questions, please contact Liliana Chang at 703-931-5500.

Looking for more union member-only scholarship opportunities? Visit our scholarship page.

Local 400 Members Ratify New Contract With Zero Cuts

A team of Kroger store associates led negotiations for the new contract on behalf of UFCW Local 400.

New Contract Increases Pay While Maintaining Healthcare & Retirement Benefits

Today, Local 400 members voted overwhelmingly to ratify a new union contract at Kroger.

This contract has absolutely no cuts. We all know it is extremely rare in this day and age to win a contract without losing a single benefit. Even at a time when other retailers are slashing benefits, we didn’t give up a single thing. We successfully preserved our healthcare and retirement benefits while also increasing pay. And it couldn’t have happened without you.

Thank you to every one of you who took the time to join us at a rally, sign a petition, and take action for a fair contract. We cannot overstate how important your participation has been to our efforts. Thanks to all of us sticking together as a union, we successfully fought back against every cut the company proposed.

The new contract takes effect immediately and extends through August 29, 2020. Let’s continue to stand together, let’s continue to build our union, and let’s keep up the fight every day to get what we deserve.

In Solidarity,

The 2017 Kroger West Virginia Bargaining Committee: Wayne, Billy, Tami, Allen, & Victoria

 

Print the Flier (PDF)

Tentative Agreement Reached

Rallies Planned for Friday, November 3 Are CANCELED

Be There to Vote On Your Next Contract Monday, November 6

Thanks to all of you who took action for a fair contract. We are now prepared to unanimously recommend a new contract proposal that we believe is the best deal possible.

Thanks to this new development, we have CANCELED the rallies planned for Friday, November 3. Together, we took action to make our voices heard – and it worked. Thanks to all of us sticking together as a union, we were able to move the nation’s largest grocery chain to improve their proposal.

We will present the complete details of this latest offer to the entire membership at our contract meetings on Monday, November 6. As a member of Local 400, it is critical that you make every effort to attend one of these meetings to cast your vote on your next contract:

Kroger West Virginia Contract Meetings: Monday, November 6, 2017

9:00 a.m. Charleston Civic Center
200 Civic Center Drive, Charleston, WV 25301
Registration opens at 8:00 a.m.

6:00 p.m. Nathan Goff Armory
5 Armory Rd, Clarksburg, WV 26301
Registration opens at 5:00 p.m.

Don’t forget your entry card! We have mailed out entry cards to all members under the Kroger West Virginia contract. Your entry card entitles you to immediate access to the meeting without signing in. If you did not receive your card in the mail, you simply need to register once you arrive at the meeting.

In Solidarity,

The 2017 Kroger West Virginia Bargaining Committee: Wayne, Billy, Tami, Allen, & Victoria

 

Sign Up for Text Alerts

As we negotiate our next union contract with Kroger, we are committed to keeping you informed every step of the way. By signing up for text alerts, you’ll get the latest updates immediately!

To sign up, just text WV to 698-329.

Your wireless provider’s message and data rates may apply – you may opt out any time by texting STOP to 698329.

 

Print the Flier (PDF)

 

 

Hundreds of Kroger Workers Hold Rallies for Fourth Week In A Row

Hundreds of Kroger workers held rallies at five Kroger stores this evening, marking the fourth straight week of actions calling on the grocery giant to negotiate a fair contract with 4,200 store associates in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio.

The workers called on Kroger to fully fund our health care benefits. Approximately 2,000 workers who rely on the health care benefits provided by our union contract with Kroger are at risk of losing their benefits if the company fails to adequately fund our health plan.

Take Action To Save Our Health Care!

Join us for our next day of action on Friday, November 3, from 4pm to 6pm at a Kroger store near you.

Please plan to join us at one of the locations listed below. (Please note the Morgantown location has changed to Clarksburg).

Ashland, KY
711 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Ashland, KY 41101

Belpre, OH
1008 Washington Blvd, Belpre, OH 45714

Beckley, WV
133 Beckley Crossing Shopping Ctr, Beckley, WV 25801

Charleston, WV
1100 Fledderjohn Rd, Charleston, WV 25314

Clarksburg, WV  **new location**
Kroger #773,198 Emily Dr, Clarksburg, WV 26301

 

Photo Gallery

 

Sign Up for Text Alerts

As we negotiate our next union contract with Kroger, we are committed to keeping you informed every step of the way. By signing up for text alerts, you’ll get the latest updates immediately!

To sign up, just text WV to 698-329.

Your wireless provider’s message and data rates may apply – you may opt out any time by texting STOP to 698329.

 

Kroger Wants To Put Your Healthcare at Risk!

DON’T TRUST KROGER WITH YOUR HEALTHCARE!

Kroger’s latest proposal is a disaster for our healthcare. Here are the facts:

  • Contract would expire in only 28 months
  • Your healthcare fund could be completely depleted in 28 months
  • Cost increases to retirees

Take action to save our healthcare! Join us on Friday, November 3 and let‘s show Kroger we will do whatever it takes save our healthcare.

Take Action to Save Our Healthcare!
Friday, November 3rd

All actions take place 4:00pm – 6:00pm at each of these stores:

Ashland, KY
711 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Ashland, KY 41101

Belpre, OH
1008 Washington Blvd, Belpre, OH 45714

Beckley, WV
133 Beckley Crossing Shopping Ctr, Beckley, WV 25801

Charleston, WV
1100 Fledderjohn Rd, Charleston, WV 25314

Clarksburg, WV  **new location**
Kroger #773,198 Emily Dr, Clarksburg, WV 26301
** Please note the Morgantown location has changed to Clarksburg **

 

Sign Up for Text Alerts

As we negotiate our next union contract with Kroger, we are committed to keeping you informed every step of the way. By signing up for text alerts, you’ll get the latest updates immediately!

To sign up, just text WV to 698-329.

Your wireless provider’s message and data rates may apply – you may opt out any time by texting STOP to 698329.

 

Print the Flier (PDF)

November 6: Don’t Forget Your Entry Card!

We have mailed out entry cards to all members under the Kroger West Virginia contract. Your entry card entitles you to immediate access to the meeting without signing in.

 

On Monday, November 6, we will be holding contract meetings for all West Virginia Kroger members. Make a plan to attend one of these important meetings:

 

Kroger West Virginia Contract Meetings
Monday, November 6, 2017

9:00 a.m. Charleston Civic Center
200 Civic Center Drive, Charleston, WV 25301
Registration opens at 8:00 a.m.

6:00 p.m. Nathan Goff Armory
5 Armory Rd, Clarksburg, WV 26301
Registration opens at 5:00 p.m.

 

Don’t forget your entry card!

We have mailed out entry cards to all members under the Kroger West Virginia contract. Your entry card entitles you to immediate access to the meeting without signing in. If you did not receive your card in the mail, you will have to register once you arrive at the meeting.

 

Sign Up for Text Alerts

As we negotiate our next union contract with Kroger, we are committed to keeping you informed every step of the way. By signing up for text alerts, you’ll get the latest updates immediately!

To sign up, just text WV to 698-329.

Your wireless provider’s message and data rates may apply – you may opt out any time by texting STOP to 698329.