WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Representative Ro Khanna (CA-17) announced the Protecting America’s Meatpacking Workers Act which would provide stronger workplace protections for meat and poultry processing workers.

Our nation’s food system has long been broken, but the COVID-19 pandemic has shined a light on just how broken the system truly is for workers, farmers and ranchers, animals, and consumers. Unfortunately, the workers responsible for getting food from the farm to our table are often overlooked and underappreciated. It is clear that our food system is not safe for most farm and food chain workers including meatpacking workers that, due to the power and influence of large multinational corporations, have been forced to risk their lives, crowded into meatpacking plants that became hotbeds for COVID-19 outbreaks. In fact, recent reports indicate that over 59,000 meatpacking workers employed by JBS, Tyson, Smithfield, Cargill, and National Beef contracted COVID-19, and at least 269 died.

The Protecting America’s Meatpacking Workers Act would provide much needed protections for meatpacking workers along with systemic reforms such as creating a fair market that allows independent farmers, ranchers and robust local food systems to thrive and ensuring that consumers can actually identify where their food comes from so that food giants cannot simply shift the burden of their unfair system to others in the supply chain or import more unsustainable meat from other parts of the world.

“As we sit down with family and friends this Thanksgiving, let it also be a day of gratitude for the workers who have worked tirelessly to ensure we have food on our tables,” said Senator Booker. “Unfortunately, meatpacking workers, including those processing the turkeys on the plates of many Americans this week, often face exploitative and dangerous work conditions. We must end this era of abusive practices and begin to ensure that all workers, farmers, and ranchers have a safe and fair opportunity to earn a living. The Protecting America’s Meatpacking Workers Act would provide essential protections to meatpacking workers and is a critical piece in transforming our food system to one that is rooted in resilience, fairness, and justice.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic publicly exposed the dangerous conditions that meatpackers employed by large multinational corporations face, but this has been a problem for a long time,” said Rep. Ro Khanna. “I’m glad to join Senator Booker to establish enhanced protections and safety standards at these mega meatpacking plants. It’s time to prioritize people over profits and implement real reforms that will keep workers safe.”

“America’s meatpacking and food processing workers have put their health on the line every day of this pandemic to ensure our families can put food on the table. These hard-working men and women on the frontlines of our food supply chain deserve safe workplaces,” said Marc Perrone, International President, United Food & Commercial Workers International Union.

“Today’s introduction of the Protecting American Meatpacking Workers Act by Senator Booker and Representative Khanna is a critical step toward strengthening protections in these plants, increasing consumer protections, and holding the industry accountable. Americans deserve to know that their food is safe, made here in the United States, and comes from American workers who are protected on the job. 

“With action to strengthen safety inspections, improve transparency and require more injury reporting, this bill would deliver the real reforms this industry needs. As America’s largest union for meatpacking workers, UFCW is calling on both Democrats and Republicans in Congress to quickly pass this legislation which supports good American jobs and will keep our food supply chain secure for years to come.”

"The members of Wisconsin Farmers Union stand in solidarity with food system workers seeking workplace safety through the ‘Protecting America's Meatpacking Workers Act of 2021,’” said Lauren Langworthy, Special Projects Director at Wisconsin Farmers Union. “As both farmers and eaters, we depend on the laborers who process our meat products. Issues of workplace safety and abuse - especially in the most consolidated processing plants - have endangered the health and wellbeing of laborers and added to the fragility of our food system as a whole. Workers deserve the basic protections brought forth in this bill, better enforcement of existing workplace safety laws, and meaningful consequences for employers who neglect the safety and wellbeing of this important workforce."

“NELP applauds Senator Booker and Representative Khanna for this legislation that secures robust health, safety, and legal protections for meatpacking workers and our food system,” said Rebecca Dixon, Executive Director, National Employment Law Project. “This legislation is a culmination of the fierce advocacy of workers, advocates, and policymakers to protect the meat and poultry workforce, a community that is critical to our nation’s wellbeing as we continue to work towards an inclusive and just recovery.”

“We want to thank Senator Booker for leading this effort,” said Suzanne Adely, Co-Director, Food Chain Workers Alliance. “Meat processing workers have been organizing for safe working conditions and for a voice in their workplace for years, and the COVID pandemic showed us just how much these workers are at risk.  While there is still much more to do to protect workers and support worker organizing in meat processing plants, we think the provisions in this Bill are a critically important step.”

“For too long, poultry companies have been exposing workers to inhumane working conditions while profiting from their labor,” said Magaly Licolli, Executive Director, Venceremos. “They have failed to take full accountability for the abuse, injuries, illnesses and financial stress their workers are subject to. This bill will address some of the most urgent protections for workers who have been undervalued to ensure they have dignity as they work to put food on our tables.” 

 Specifically, the Protecting America’s Meatpacking Workers Act would do the following:

 

  • Protect meat and poultry works by: 

    • Preventing the Secretary of Agriculture from issuing line speeds waivers unless meat and poultry plants agree to a USDA inspection which must show that an increase in line speeds will not adversely impact worker safety;
    • Establishing occupational safety and health standards to protect employees in meat and poultry plants;
    • Implementing a regional emphasis inspection program for meat and poultry plants which will cover multiple aspects of worker safety including amputation hazards, ergonomics, and hazards related to line speeds, bathroom breaks, use of certain antimicrobials, and temperatures of work sites;
    • Allowing meat or poultry plant employees the ability to authorize a representative, who may be a member of a worker-based community group, to accompany physical inspections;
    • Strengthening existing protections against retaliation from employers when employees refuse to perform work duties under conditions of reasonable apprehension and sets up a system wherein employees may file a complaint in the event retaliation has occurred;
    • Establishing a standardized, publicly available, reporting process for use during pandemics, which will require meat or poultry plants to report the number of employees who have become ill, their racial demographics, and their employment status;
  • Reform the farm system by:
    • Requiring that all grants funded under USDA AMS for Expanded Meat & Poultry Processing include labor peace agreements and prohibiting small processing plants that received a grant from being sold to meat and poultry packers with over 10 percent of market share for a period of 10 years;
    • Strengthening the Packers & Stockyards Act to crack down on the monopolistic practices of meatpackers and corporate integrators;
    • Restoring mandatory country-of-origin labeling requirements
  • Calling for GAO reports that would explore:
    • The fragility of our nation’s food system with respect to meat and poultry;
    • Racial and ethnic disparities in meat and poultry processing;
    • The actions taken by the federal government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to determine the effectiveness of those actions in protecting animal, food, and worker safety.

  

Last year, Senator Booker introduced the Safe Line Speeds in COVID-19 Act, that suspended all current and future USDA waivers and regulations that allowed companies to increase production line speeds at meatpacking plants during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A list of the organizations endorsing the Protecting America’s Meatpacking Workers Act can be found here

The following Senators co-sponsored this legislation: Gillibrand (D-NY), Blumenthal (D-CT), Sanders (I-VT), and Warren (D-MA).

The full text of the legislation can be viewed here