Tyson Foods and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) are expanding their collaborative efforts to make workplace safety improvements at the company’s food processing plants and commemorating 30 years of working together for safer workplaces.
The three decades-long partnership is one union leaders call a model for the food industry. It began in 1988, with the launch of a landmark ergonomics program and has evolved to include improvements that have helped reduce workplace injuries and illnesses. While the primary focus has been Tyson Foods’ beef and pork operations, it is now being expanded to the company’s poultry business, which has been accelerating its workplace safety efforts in recent years.
“We’re proud of the progress we’ve made through our collaboration with the UFCW, and especially the active involvement of frontline team members,” said Steve Stouffer, president of Tyson Fresh Meats. “We know that all of us must remain diligent if we’re to achieve additional improvements.”
“We value the progress we’ve made at Tyson and are looking forward to expanding our partnership to create safer workplaces for all of their hard-working men and women,” said Mark Lauritsen, director of the UFCW’s Food Processing, Packing and Manufacturing Division. “Working together with Tyson has meant empowering workers and their union to make a better, safer workplace.”
Examples of the company’s and union’s collaborative efforts include:
- Plant safety audits by management and union representatives
- Ergonomics and safety committees that enable frontline workers and their union to regularly meet with plant management on safety matters
- Empowering frontline workers to stop the production line if a safety or ergonomics issue is detected
- Project “Why Not,” which encourages management and frontline workers and their union to re-evaluate job functions for ergonomic improvement
- Full-time safety and ergonomic “captains” responsible for day-to-day safety and ergonomic monitoring
- “Captains of the Week,” who are workers allowed to leave the production line for one hour every day for a week to gain in depth exposure to safety and ergonomics programs
“We’ve worked hard over the years to create a culture where everyone is comfortable to speak up about safety issues,” said Sherry Louk, a nine-year Tyson Foods veteran and safety captain at the plant in Perry, Iowa. “Because we all want the safest workplace possible, there is an environment of empowerment where we can be honest about safety concerns and fix them before somebody gets hurt. At Tyson, I can say ‘I’ve got your back’ because the company and the union have mine.”
The next step in the company-union relationship is increased focus on the company’s poultry plants, where the UFCW represents workers at 12 locations.
“We value our frontline team members who are crucial to the continued success of our poultry businesses,” said Doug Ramsey, group president of poultry, Tyson Foods. “While we have existing programs to help train and protect our people and give them a voice in the workplace, we look forward to working more closely with the UFCW on additional ways we can improve.”
The UFCW currently represents more than 24,000 people employed by Tyson Foods or its subsidiaries.