Democratic Senators eager to screw African-American and Hispanic poultry workers

Celeste Monforton

Dec. 19, 2013

Many Senate Democrats try to paint themselves as defenders of working people. They rail against their colleagues who are “in the pockets of corporations and the rich.”  But what they say, and what they do are two different things. This time, seven Democratic Senators are ready to screw poultry workers to please the owners of the poultry companies.

We’ve been writing for nearly two years on the USDA’s plan to “modernize poultry inspection” (e.g., hereherehere, here). It’s a plan that will give Tyson, Perdue, Pilgrims’ Pride and other poultry producers an additional $250 million a year in revenue. It will allow USDA to eliminate 800 inspectors, and it won’t improve, and could make worse, food safety. To “sell” poultry companies on the plan, USDA will allow them to increase line speeds up to 175 birds per minute.

The industry and USDA are well aware that poultry workers already suffer disabling repetitive motion injuries from the unrelenting speed of the dis-assembly lines. A recent study by the CDC revealed that more than 40 percent of poultry workers at one Pilgrims’ Pride plant suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome. USDA’s plan will make this very bad situation even worse.

Seven Senate Democrats are behind the USDA plan. They are:

  • Kay Hagen (D-NC)  
  • Joe Donnelly (D-IN)  
  • Chris Coons (D-DE)  
  • Mark Warner (D-VA)  
  • Heidi Heitkam (D-ND)  
  • Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)  
  • Mark Pryor (D-AR).

These seven U.S. Senators sent a letter last week to USDA Secretary Vilsack urging quick action on the change. These Senators have chosen to ignore the evidence of harm that will come to these workers. The majority of poultry plant workers are women and people of color. These Senators are saying “too bad” to the workers, and giving the billion dollar poultry industry just what they want.

The Senators assert that USDA’s “peer-reviewed” risk assessment says food safety will be improved. The reviewers they refer to are indeed peers—peers of the poultry industry. One works for the USDA and the other is a professor at the University of Arkansas, in a position funded by the Tyson (poultry) Family Foundation. The seven Senators are also ignoring the evidence from two GAO reports that reveal USDA’s plan is based on shoddy science.

It’s bad enough having President Obama and his USDA pushing for this change. Now we have seven Democratic Senators eager to screw poultry workers. With crippled hands that can’t hold a pen or dial the phone, the Senators don’t have to worry about hearing their complaints.

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