Union Carries on Fight to Protect Workers

UFCW workers affected by repetitive stress injuries met\r\nwith Labor Secretary Elaine Chao to discuss how to protect workers\r\nfrom ergonomics injuries.

After Congress killed the ergonomics standard, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) President Doug Dority and five union workers affected by repetitive stress injuries met with Labor Secretary Elaine Chao to discuss how to protect workers from ergonomics injuries.

Three workers recounted the work processes that caused their repetitive strain injuries.

Julio Gonzalez, who worked for eight years at the Northern States Beef packing plant in Omaha, Neb., described the disabling shoulder injuries that forced him to quit.

Twenty-year union member Jennifer Hunter, a poultry worker at Tyson Foods in Glen Allen, Va., told Chao about the constant pain in her wrist, shoulder and elbow.

Grocery cashier Carolyn Shebora talked about the carpal tunnel syndrome that started as a tingling and numbness in her fingers and eventually required surgery in both hands and a shoulder.

Then Chao heard from workers who have experienced firsthand how ergonomics programs prevent musculoskeletal disorders.

UFCW member Carmen Hacht, who worked at the IBP meatpacking plant in Dakota City, Neb., for more than 25 years, was one of 18 monitors for the company''s ergonomics program.

She discussed her monthly walkarounds in which she would talk with other workers and send out questionnaires to pinpoint problems to be addressed at the joint labor/management ergonomics committee meetings.

"IBP''s program is one of the best," said Hacht. "It has helped lower injury rates, raise productivity and ensure a better quality of life for workers."

Member Ken Demaray, who works at the Excel beef plant in Friona, Texas, told Chao that his contract provides an excellent ergonomics program.

"The company loves it," said Demaray. "It saves them a fortune and protects workers."

UFCW''s Dority called on Chao to begin work on a standard to protect workers against ergonomic hazards.

Dority also asked the labor secretary to take immediate action under OSHA''s General Duty clause to provide every worker with a safe workplace.

He advised Chao that the UFCW will be filling complaints with OSHA in all work locations with ergonomics hazards under the General Duty clause.

OSHA used the General Duty clause (Section 5 of the OSH Act) to pursue a number of ergonomics cases.

One such case was brought against Beverly Enterprises, a nursing home facility. The company contested OSHA''s enforcement action.

An administrative law judge first ruled against OSHA. But, the agency appealed to the Occupational Health and Safety Review Commission, which sided with the agency.

"We expect -- and workers will demand -- OSHA enforcement action," said Dority. "Our 1.4 million members are committed to winning the fight for health and safety in the workplace."

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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