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Bill to Protect Meatpacking Workers Introduced

By: Sydney Sheffield 

In the Senate, Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Protecting America’s Meatpacking Workers Act (PAMWA) to provide enhanced protections for meat and poultry processing workers. Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA) also introduced the bill into the House. PAMWA comes as a response to industry issues revealed through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“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 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.”

During the height of the pandemic, it was revealed that over 59,000 meatpacking and processing workers contracted COVID-19, and at least 269 died. PAMWA would provide protections for meatpacking workers along with systemic reforms, such as creating a fair market that allows independent farmers, ranchers, and local food systems to succeed. 

PAMWA is endorsed by several organizations such as Food Chain Workers Alliance, Michigan Farmers Union, R-CALF USA, and Center for Food Safety. Marc Perrone, International President of the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union, said “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.”

The act will prevent the Secretary of Agriculture from issuing line speeds waivers unless meat and poultry plants agree to a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspection and establish occupational safety and health standards. It will also implement a regional emphasis inspection program for meat and poultry plants and allow 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. 

There will also be a strong focus to strengthen existing protections against retaliation from employers when employees refuse to perform work duties under conditions of reasonable apprehension and establish a system where employees may file a complaint in the event retaliation has occurred, and establish 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. 

Additionally, PAMWA will reform the farming system by requiring that all grants funded under the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (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 10 years, strengthening the Packers & Stockyards Act to crack down on the monopolistic practices of meatpackers and corporate integrators, and restoring mandatory country-of-origin labeling requirements. 

Lastly, PAMWA calls upon the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) to report on the nation’s food system concerning meat and poultry, racial and ethnic disparities in meat and poultry processing, and 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.

Read the bill here.