Line Speeds Threaten Meatpackers

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Slaughterhouse Line Speeds Threaten Meatpackers

[Ed. Note: Yet one more reason to go vegan! Brutality towards animals is directly related to brutality to people.]

By Dave Dreeszen on SiouxCityJournal.com
October 2009

Unrelenting speeds on production lines at Nebraska meatpacker plants puts workers at greater risk of injury or death, a non-profit group warns in a report released Wednesday.

Workers, many of whom are non-English speaking Hispanics, also are routinely subjected to verbal abuse and humiliating treatment, says the Lincoln, Neb.-based Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest.

Appleseed's 104-page report is based on interviews with 455 people who worked in nine plants in five Nebraska communities in 2007 and 2008.

To focus on working conditions within the industry, rather than target specific employers, the group did not identify the plants or cities. A union leader reports that some employees of Tyson Foods' Dakota City beef slaughter and processing plant were among those interviewed.

Marvin Harrington, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 222, said Appleseed officials selected workers at random and talked to them at home, rather than work, to keep their identifies confidential.

Meatpacking helped build Sioux City, and it remains one of the industries biggest and most robust industries. With more than 3,400 workers, Tyson's Dakota City plant is easily the metro area's largest employer.

In its report, Appleseed said it found instances of injuries more than seven times higher than the official government report for the occupation. Of those surveyed, 62 percent surveyed reported injuries in the past year. Four percent said injuries had increased a lot at their plants, while 30 percent said they had increased somewhat.

"Meatpacking is still one of the most dangerous jobs in America,'' Appleseed said in the report.

Seventy-three percent of workers reported line speeds had increased in the past year, according to Appleseed.

Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said plant production rates are not established arbitrarily, but through analysis of a number of factors.

"Appropriate staffing for a production line is set by industrial engineers who conduct studies to determine the number of people needed to safely, yet effectively process certain product mixes,'' Mickelson said in a statement. "Protecting the safety of our team members, as well as the quality of our products, are key factors in establishing staffing levels.''

In its report, Appleseed offers a series of recommendations for improving worker safety, including giving the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration the authority to regulate line speeds.

The American Meat Institute, which represents companies that process 95 percent of the red meat in the United States, challenged claims that fast production lines put workers at greater risk.

Citing U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, Janet Riley, the American Meat Institute's senior vice president of public affairs, told the paper the incident of reported injuries and illnesses for 2007 fell nearly 8 percent from the previous year.