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Union to Bush: Include Worker Protections in Bird Flu Plan

Noting that workers in the poultry industry would be on the front lines if the bird flu broke out in the United States, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) has sent a letter to President Bush urging him to initiate a cabinet-level meeting to discuss ways to include worker protections in his bird flu plan.

UFCW points out that, in the event of a bird flu pandemic, workers in America's poultry industry would be the first to notice sick birds, the first to risk exposure to the deadly virus and the first to sound the alarm.

"The Bush administration has taken the first, important steps in containing a potential outbreak of bird flu by discussing and planning the control of the virus at its source in animals," UFCW says in a news release. "However, if we are to avoid a pandemic, America's plan to contain the bird flu must have a worker component."

Poultry Workers are Nation's Best Defense Against Bird Flu

UFCW points out that direct contact with poultry which is standard practice for workers in the poultry industry is considered the main route of human infection. The union is urging the Bush administration to consider implementing a worker immunization program to prevent the spread of the disease and to bolster public confidence in the government's plan to contain the disease.

The union asserts the poultry workers are in the best position to identify sick birds and report suspected cases of bird flu, and as such "are the nation's best defense against a pandemic." However, the workers will need whistleblower protections "in order to avoid discrimination and to assure that profit doesn't override health and safety."

Union to Bush: Reach out to Immigrant Workers

The union also is urging the Bush administration to reach out to immigrant, undocumented and Spanish-speaking poultry workers with safety and health information, as "this population is unlikely to ask for safety and health protections such as respirator and flu shots."

The union references a controversial sting from earlier this year in which agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement lured immigrant workers to a safety meeting under the pretext that they were OSHA officials. UFCW says "we must strictly enforce a policy that prohibits sting operations that undermine OSHA credibility."

"[Poultry] worker issues are of paramount importance," the union says in the news release. "Worker organizations, like unions, should be consulted and integrated into the effort. The UFCW stands ready to work with all interested stakeholders, including worker representatives, government agencies and poultry companies."

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