A coalition of civil rights groups filed a formal petition urging the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) opposing proposed increases in line speeds at poultry plants. The USDA has proposed increasing line speeds from a maximum of 140 birds per minute to 175.
The coalition also takes issue with current OSHA standards, claiming the standards don't address the work speed injuries that are most common in poultry and meatpacking plants. In the petition, the groups urge OSHA to establish a standard that limits work speeds, create standards that address specific, and ensure that existing safety guidelines are enforceable.
Industry groups, including the American Meat Institute, dispute the coalition's claims that the industry is "notoriously dangerous."
"We have a sustained record of improved worker safety during the last two decades. …Our worker safety records are consistent with safety records for 'all manufacturing,'" said J. Dan McCausland, senior director of worker safety for the American Meat Institute.
McCausland said that when examining line speeds, other factors such as how a line is staffed need to be taken into consideration. He added the industry understands it is not in meat companies' best interests to operate at speeds that cannot produce high-quality products.
"Our record, as evidenced by OSHA data, shows an industry that is committed to worker safety and continuously improving in this area. USDA has the authority it needs today to adjust line speeds as necessary to ensure both food safety and also worker safety," said McCausland.
The coalition, which issued the petition on Sept. 3, includes the Southern Poverty Law Center, Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest, Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, Coalition of Poultry Workers, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Farmworker Advocacy Network, Heartland Workers Center, Interfaith Worker Justice, Midwest Coalition for Human Rights, National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, North Carolina Justice Center, Northwest Arkansas Worker Justice Center, Refugee Women's Network, Student Action with Farmworkers and Western North Carolina Workers' Center.