Meat Industry/OSHA Alliance Infuriates Union

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), which represents many workers in the meatpacking industry, is complaining it was left out of an alliance forged between OSHA and the American Meat Institute (AMI), an alliance which is supposed to promote safe working conditions for meat industry workers.

OSHA Administrator John Henshaw made the announcement of the alliance in New Orleans at a meeting of AMI's board of directors, saying "OSHA and AMI are committed to reducing ergonomic hazards in the workplace," Henshaw said. "We worked together in 1990 to develop ergonomic guidelines for meatpacking plants. Now, this alliance provides an even stronger opportunity to reach out to the meat industry and reduce occupational musculoskeletal disorders even more."

According to the union, the UFCW worked hand-in-hand with OSHA and leading meatpackers to develop safety guidelines for the red meat industry some 12 years ago. The UFCW has directly developed several successful worksite ergonomics programs with major food corporations. This time around, however, the union complains it was not invited to participate in the alliance.

"These partnership programs or alliances effectively put a fox in every henhouse with government sponsorship. Workers, consumers and taxpayers are left to fend for themselves as the corporate-government insiders are locked in a big group hug," says a press release from the union

The alliance sets specific goals and priorities - key among those is providing AMI members and others in the meat industry with information to help protect workers' health and safety, focusing on reducing and preventing exposure to ergonomic hazards. The alliance also calls for both organizations to provide training on ergonomics techniques, program structure and applications in the meat industry.

Outreach and communication is a major part of the alliance, according to the agency, and OSHA and AMI will promote and encourage AMI members' participation in OSHA's cooperative programs, such as compliance assistance, the Voluntary Protection Program, consultation program and the Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program, as well as mentoring among AMI members.

Training and education goals have been set, including working together to cross-train OSHA personnel and industry safety and health professionals in AMI ergonomic best practices or programs. AMI will also include ergonomics training sessions at the annual American Meat Institute Foundation Worker Safety, Health and Human Resources conference.

According to the union, the alliance and particularly its emphasis on preventing ergonomic injuries - is just so much smoke and mirrors. The press release from the UFCW insists the Bush administration and the AMI "got together last year to kill the ergonomic standard and to expose thousands of poultry and packinghouse workers to needless painful and crippling injuries."

The union noted that "one out of four workers in the packing industry is injured every year and poultry and packing plants lead the nation in causing musculoskeletal disorders."

Doug Dority, international president of the 1.4-million-member union, promised to ensure every packinghouse worker received a photograph from the meeting in New Orleans of Henshaw with board members. "A picture is worth a thousand words. The Bush administration official responsible for worker safety is standing with the bosses, not the workers."

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