SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today, as part of a multistate coalition, filed an amicus brief in support of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union in their lawsuit challenging the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) deregulation of critical worker and food safety protections in pork slaughterhouses. The USDA’s New Swine Inspection System shifts responsibility for food safety inspections from trained USDA inspectors to untrained slaughterhouse employees and eliminates limits on the number of pigs that can be slaughtered each hour. In the amicus brief, the coalition argues that the new rules will further endanger slaughterhouse workers, who already face elevated health risks from dangers inherent to the job and from recent COVID-19 outbreaks in slaughterhouse facilities.
“The Trump Administration plowed ahead with the elimination of critical protections in slaughterhouses, and now some of our most vulnerable workers — in cruel irony, considered “essential workers” — are paying the price,” said Attorney General Becerra. “President Trump’s disdain for blue collar workers who do the tough jobs that others won’t is etched in every order he signs. As coronavirus continues to sweep across the country, ongoing outbreaks in slaughterhouses have proven that current safety procedures are alarmingly insufficient. Our workers deserve better, and our communities expect more. My office stands fully in support of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union as they seek to stop the Trump Administration’s dismantling of workplace protections in the meatpacking industry.”
The New Swine Inspection System is a voluntary program for USDA-regulated swine slaughter facilities. The new regulatory regime removes important limits on the number of pigs processed per hour in pork slaughterhouses and delegates inspection authority away from trained USDA inspectors to untrained slaughterhouse employees. The elimination of processing limits is expected to result in more workplace injuries to slaughterhouse employees working in already crowded, fast cutting areas. The current public health crisis has only exacerbated the risks to these workers, predominately immigrants and people of color, in California and across the country. More than 30,000 meatpacking workers have already been infected with COVID-19, and at least 100 have died. Nevertheless, the industry has not slowed processing speeds in order to keep workers safe, and the Trump Administration has recklessly moved to minimize worker protections in these dangerous settings.
In January 2018, the USDA announced its proposal to amend the federal meat inspection regulations to establish a new voluntary inspection system for swine slaughter facilities. Shortly after, at the request of multiple members of Congress, the USDA’s Office of the Inspector General opened an investigation into the rulemaking process. Despite the ongoing investigation, the USDA finalized the New Swine Inspection System in October 2019. The Office of the Inspector General subsequently concluded that USDA did not fully disclose the data sources it relied on for its workers safety analysis; did not take adequate steps to determine whether the data it used was reliable; and relied on data that had significant gaps to conclude that facilities with faster processing speeds did not have more reports of worker injuries.
In the amicus brief, the coalition argues that the elimination of line-speed limits is arbitrary and capricious and must be vacated. The coalition also emphasizes that removing line speed restrictions is likely to have a significant impact on food safety and public health.
In filing the amicus brief, Attorney General Becerra joins the attorneys general of Minnesota, Maryland, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Virginia.
A copy of the brief can be found here.