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DeLauro, Thompson, Booker Re-introduce Bill to Protect Meatpacking Workers From COVID-19

March 11, 2021
Press Release

The Safe Line Speeds During COVID-19 Act will suspend and prohibit USDA “line speed waivers” that endanger workers at meatpacking plants for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency

Legislation Follows Chair DeLauro’s Appropriations Hearing on Safety Protections for Meatpacking Workers

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) reintroduced the Safe Line Speeds During COVID-19 Act to protect worker, consumer, and animal safety by suspending all current and future USDA waivers and regulations that allow companies to increase production line speeds at meatpacking plants during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Across the country, many meat processing plants have become COVID-19 hotspots. To date, more than 57,000 meatpacking workers have tested positive for COVID-19, and at least 284 have died this past year, according to the Food and Environment Reporting Network. According to a recent study conducted by the National Employment Law Project, there have been more deaths related to COVID-19 in meat and poultry plants in 2020 than other work-related deaths in the past 15 years in the same industry. 

In January of this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) withdrew the Trump administration's proposed rule which would have allowed poultry processing plants to increase the speed of their production lines by 25%.

“Last week, the Labor-HHS Subcommittee that I chair heard testimony on the safety of meatpacking workers that revealed corporate meatpackers pursued faster line speeds to protect their bottom lines at the tragic expense of workers,” said Representative DeLauro. “The ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at meat plants over the last year have raised serious questions about the safety conditions inside these plants. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, these workers experienced injuries at a higher rate than comparable occupations. And now, faster line speeds make it impossible for workers to practice social distancing and comply with safety guidelines. That is why I am proud to join the leadership shown by Senator Booker and Representative Thompson in introducing this legislation that will reign in these reckless line speed waivers for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency.”

“It is imperative that we ensure worker safety on slaughter lines," said Representative Thompson. “Safety cannot be exchanged for high production. During this unprecedented time of COVID-19, we should take the necessary precautions to ensure employees are safe while working at meat and poultry establishments.”

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, outbreaks of COVID-19 have surged in meatpacking plants across the country, where the majority of workers are from immigrant communities and communities of color, resulting in tens of thousands of COVID-19 infections among meatpacking workers and tragically at least 284 deaths,” said Senator Booker. “The situation only worsened last year when the Trump administration approved more than 20 requests from meatpacking plants to exceed regulatory limits on line speeds despite the risks posed to the safety of workers and consumers. The Biden administration has taken an important first step in withdrawing the previous administration's proposed rule to increase line speeds in poultry plants, but it is critically important that we continue to prioritize the safety of frontline workers and consumers over the profits of large multinational meatpacking corporations.”

“America’s meatpacking and food processing workers are putting their health on the line every day to ensure our families can put food on the table as this pandemic continues,” said Marc Perrone, President of the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW). These hard-working men and women of America’s meatpacking industry deserve safe workplaces. Today’s introduction of the Safe Line Speeds in COVID-19 Act by Senator Booker and Representative DeLauro is a critical step toward strengthening protections in these plants. Simply put, slower line speeds help to keep workers safe from injuries and ensure safe social distancing to stop the spread of COVID-19.  As these essential workers continue to serve on the frontlines of this pandemic, all Members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats, must commit to putting safety first by passing this critical legislation that will strengthen vital protections for the brave men and women in meatpacking plants who are helping to keep our food supply secure during this crisis.”

“NELP applauds Senator Booker and Representative DeLauro for this bill that will help ensure the safety and health of the 500,000 meat and poultry workers in the U.S. by suspending the previous administration’s waivers that allowed increased line speeds in meat and poultry plants and blocking funds for the implementation of line speed increases in hog slaughter plants,” said Rebecca Dixon, Executive Director, National Employment Law Project (NELP). “The line speed increases allowed by last administration's Department of Agriculture have jeopardized the lives and health of the largely Black, Latinx, and immigrant packinghouse workers and their communities during the pandemic. This bill is a critical step in the right direction toward a just recovery for those communities and all meat and poultry workers.”

“The Trump administration’s approach to the pandemic was to do what the meat industry wanted: speed up production and reduce government oversight. This was dangerous and deadly: Meat plants that adopted faster line speeds had double the county-wide COVID-19 illnesses than other plants,” said Food & Water Watch Senior Staff Attorney Zach Corrigan. “Senator Booker and Congresswoman DeLauro have been leaders on agriculture and food safety, and we look forward to working hard with them to make this important bill into law.”

“Industrial agriculture’s failures during the COVID-19 pandemic have exposed massive vulnerabilities in our food system, creating an urgent need to transition to a more humane food system that values animals, people and the environment,” said Matt Bershadker, ASPCA President and CEO. “Prohibiting irresponsibly fast slaughter speeds is one immediate step we can take to enhance protections for animals, workers and consumers, and we thank Senator Booker and Representatives DeLauro and Thompson for their leadership on the Safe Line Speeds During COVID-19 Act.”

For the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration, the Safe Line Speeds During COVID-19 Act would:

  • Suspend all active waivers issued by USDA related to line speeds at meat and poultry establishments and suspend USDA’s authority to issue new waivers in this area;
  • Suspend implementation of, and conversion to, the New Swine Slaughter Inspection System established under USDA’s final rule published on Oct. 1, 2019, titled, Modernization of Swine Slaughter Inspection; and
  • Prohibit USDA from using federal funds to develop, proposed, finalize, issue, amend, or implement any policy, regulation, directive, constituent update, or any other agency program that would increase line speeds at meat and poultry establishments.

Additionally, the Safe Line Speeds During COVID-19 Act would:

  • Ensure the provisions of the bill are in addition to, not in lieu of, any State laws or regulations designed to further protect worker safety or animal welfare beyond what this bill provides;
  • Require Government Accountability Office to review the effectiveness of various actions taken by USDA, the Department of Labor (DOL), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and meat and poultry establishments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to protect animal, food, and worker safety; and
  • Require USDA, DOL, and HHS to issue a report to Congress by December 31, 2020, including their respective actions taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to protect animal, food, and worker safety.

As Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Representative DeLauro introduced the Safe Line Speeds During COVID-19 Act following her hearing on health and safety for meatpacking, poultry, and agriculture workers.

In addition to DeLauro and Thompson, the bill is cosponsored by Representatives Barragán (D-CA), Blumenauer (D-OR), Katherine Clark (D-MA), Cooper (D-TN), Jesús "Chuy” García (D-IL), Hastings (D-FL), Kaptur (D-OH), Khanna (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Andy Levin (D-MI), Lowenthal (D-CA), McGovern (D-MA), Napolitano (D-CA), Norton (D-DC), Pingree (D-ME), Pressley (D-MA), Rush (D-IL), Schakowsky(D-IL), Suozzi (D-NY), Tlaib (D-MI), Watson Coleman (D-NJ), and Van Drew (R-NJ).

In addition to Booker, the bill is cosponsored by Senators Feinstein (D-CA), Warren (D-MA), Sanders (I-VT), Merkley (D-OR), Blumenthal (D-CT) Baldwin (D-IL), Brown (D-OH), Casey (D-PA), Gillibrand (D-NY), Murray (D-WA), and Cardin (D-MD).

The Safe Line Speeds During COVID-19 Act endorsed organizations can be viewed here.

The bill text for the Safe Line Speeds During COVID-19 Act is available here.