Federal workers’ union wants Congress to investigate VA Choice contractors

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) in a letter to congressional committee leaders urged the committees to investigate two private contractors operating the Veterans Affairs Choice Program.

The Choice Program, created by the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, privatizes some VA health care services.

In its letter, the union accuses the two contractors TriWest Healthcare Alliance and Health Net Federal Services of defrauding the government.

The accusation stems from the results of an audit of the Choice Program. TAFGhe audit uncovered “tens of thousands of duplicate cases” and inflated reimbursement claims resulting in overcharges of more than $89 million.

 

The contractors’ overcharges “have directly harmed veterans and undermined the capacity of the VA health care system to provide them with the exemplary care that they have earned with their service,” states the union’s letter.

The audit, which began in March 2017, was conducted by the VA’s Office of the Inspector General after it was discovered that the Choice Program’s funds were running low.

The results of that audit were published in a September 2017 memorandum from the inspector general to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

The audit found that TriWest and Health Net had been over paid because of their questionable billing practices and because of the VA’s lack of oversight.

TriWest and Health Net were selected by the VA in 2014 to operate the new Choice Program, which diverts some veterans seeking VA health care services to private health care providers.

The two companies’ responsibilities include referring veterans to private health care providers and paying claims resulting from these referrals.

The companies are then reimbursed by the VA for the claims they pay.

According to the inspector general’s memo, “our audit work to date demonstrates the existence of tens of thousands of duplicate payments.”

According to the memo, the companies began submitting duplicate claims after convincing VA management that the VA wasn’t paying the companies’ claims quickly enough.

In order to speed up payments, the VA agreed to forego its customary review of claims and allow the companies to submit their claims in bulk with only a cursory review.

“Information obtained from the (companies) during our audits indicates that neither has effective processes for preventing duplicate payments,” states the inspector general’s memo.

Another questionable practice involved overcharging the VA for reimbursement.

The VA’s contract with the two companies says that reimbursement payments will be based on the Medicare reimbursement rate.

But in some instances, the companies negotiated deals with health care providers to accept payments below the Medicare reimbursement rate.

The companies then submitted reimbursement claims based on the higher Medicare rate to the VA.

The VA’s inspector general isn’t the only one that has taken an interest in the Choice Program’s billing practice.

The Arizona Republic reports that TriWest, a Phoenix-based company, is the subject of a federal grand jury investigation concerning irregularities in the Choice Program.

According to the Republic, the grand jury is investigating TriWest for “possible wire fraud and misuse of government funds” in two VA-administered health care programs.

When asked by the Republic if TriWest committed fraudulent billing practices, David McIntyre, TriWest’s CEO and a former aide to Sen. John McCain, replied, “absolutely not.”

But the Republic also reports that TriWest in 2011 paid $10 million to settle allegations by the Justice Department that the company defrauded TRICARE, the US Defense Department’s health care plan for the military, military members’ dependents, and military retirees.

Law 360 reports that the Department of Defense in 2012 decided to drop TriWest as a TRICARE contractor “just months after TriWest agreed to pay $10 million over fraudulent billing.”

Health Net also has had its problems.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan told the Detroit News that Health Net’s performance running the Choice Program in Michigan has been “a disaster.”

She said that she has received a number of calls from veterans complaining of long waits when seking medical treatment through the Choice Program and that Michigan health care providers are having problems with delayed payments or not getting paid at all.

Some rural clinics in Michigan have stopped participating in the Choice Program because of Health Net’s payment problems, said Stabenow.

Health care providers in Alabama, Florida, and Wyoming also have stopped participating the Choice Program because of payment problems with Health Net.

In its letter to members of Congress, AFGE noted that “despite overwhelming evidence of abusive practices by both contractors, . . . the VA gave them contract extensions through September 30, 2018.”

The letter urges the committees with oversight responsibilities to take action before the companies are awarded further extensions.

The committees must act “to protect veterans and taxpayers from these improper and wasteful practices,” concluded the union’s letter.

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Fast Food Justice sets sights on gains beyond $15 an hour minimum wage

Fast food workers on January 9 rallied in New York City to announce that the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs had recognized their new membership-based workers rights advocacy group Fast Food Justice.

Twelve hundred fast food workers in New York City have joined Fast Food Justice by signing pledge cards.

The pledge cards state that members want their employers to withhold regular donations to Fast Food Justice from their paychecks.

Now that the Department of Consumer Affairs has recognized Fast Food Justice, New York City employers must comply with their workers’ requests.

The regular donations will put Fast Food Justice on a firm financial footing that will enhance its fight for dignity on the job and a better community.

Fast Food Justice says that it will fight wage theft and monitor and take action to ensure enforcement of state of New York’s minimum wage law, the city’s new paid sick leave law, and the city’s new Fair Work Week law, which gives fast food and retail workers predictability about when they work and the number of hours they work.

The group also says that it will fight for affordable housing and transportation, for immigrant rights, for racial justice, and for fair policing and criminal justice reform.

“We want to bring change not only in the fast-food industry, but (also) in our communities,” said Fast Food Justice member Shantel Walker to the New York Times.

Fast Food Justice had its genesis in the 2012 fast food workers strike for a $15 an hour minimum wage and the ensuing Fight for $15 movement.

Those workers eventually succeeded in getting the state of New York to pass a new minimum wage law.

The new law increased the minimum wage in three phases. The first phase raised the minimum wage for most workers in New York City to $11 an hour, the second phase to $13.50 an hour effective December 31, 2017, and the third phase to $15 an hour effective December 31, 2018.

The workers movement’s momentum for a $15 an hour minimum wage helped bring about other benefits for fast food and other retail workers.

In May, the New York’s City Council passed and  Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law the Fair Work Week law, which requires fast food chains and retail employers to give employees more predictable schedules, adequate time off between shifts, and it restricts on-call scheduling.

The law also requires businesses to recognize a worker’s choice to join and fund non-profit groups such as Fast Food Justice by withholding at a worker’s request a regular donation to the group from a worker’s paycheck..

In order to have donations withheld, a group must obtain at least 500 signed pledge cards stating that its members want their donations withheld on a regular basis, and the group must be recognized by the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs.

The 1200 workers who signed the Fast Food Justice pledge cards told their employers to withhold $3.37 from their paychecks if they are paid weekly or $6.74 if they are paid bi-weekly.

Those amounts go up in 2019 to $3.75 and $7.50 respectively.

Since Fast Food Justice is a labor advocacy group not a labor union, it won’t be negotiating collective bargaining agreements with employers, but it will be standing up for its members and other workers in other ways.

It will fight to make sure that current laws that protect workers are enforced and to make sure that worker protection laws stay in place and are expanded when necessary.

Financially stable labor advocacy groups that fight for low-wage workers may be more important now than ever.

The labor policies of the Trump administration suggest that gains that low-wage and other workers have won will be coming under attack.

The National Labor Relations Board’s new Republican majority in December overturned the board’s joint employer liability rule that allowed corporations like McDonald’s to be held partially responsible when the corporation’s franchise owners violated labor laws.

At the Labor Department, President Trump nominated Cheryl Stanton to lead the department’s Wage and Hour Division.

The Wage and Hour Division among other things enforces the Minimum Wage law and other federal laws that protect worker rights.

Bloomberg reports that Stanton at one time was an attorney for Ogletree Deakins, a South Carolina law firm.

During her work there, Stanton defended employers accused of not paying the minimum wage and of misclassifying workers as independent contractors.

Stanton is awaiting Senate confirmation. Currently, the Wage and Hour Division’s acting administrator is Bryan Jarrett, who was appointed by President Trump to lead the division until Stanton is confirmed.

According to a report given at a recent American Bar Association labor and employment law conference, “the hiring of Jarrett follows a pattern of Trump administration employees (at the Labor Department) having a background of representing employers in workplace lawsuits.”

To take on these looming challenges, Fast Food Justice recognizes that it must grow. With that in mind, it has set a goal of increasing membership to 5000 by the end of 2018 and to 20,000 by 2020.

 

 

 

Union disappointed in NLRB’s decision to drop Honeywell case

It didn’t take long for the new National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) General Counsel to give notice that his appointment by President Trump meant that the board would be taking a new direction.

Peter Robb took office in mid-November, and by December 1 he issued an advice memo to staff outlining his priorities.

According to the National Law Review, the advice memo was a “wish list” for employers seeking to overturn decisions during the Obama administrationthat benefited workers.

Robb got down to business on January 4 when he ordered NLRB attorneys to drop a complaint against Honeywell for engaging in an illegal lockout.

Honeywell Aerospace division in 2016 locked out 350 United Autoworkers (UAW) members at its airplane components factories in  South Bend, Indiana and Green Island, New York.

In July 2017, six months after the lockout ended, the NLRB determined that the lockout was illegal and issued a complaint against Honeywell.

The complaint was scheduled for trial in May 2018. Had Honeywell been found guilty, it could have been fined as much as $20 million.

Robb’s order cancels the trial and lifts the threat of a multi-million dollar fine.

John Suher, Sr., president of UAW Local 9, the South Bend workers’ union, told WNDU News that Robb’s decision was “a critical blow” to workers and their families who suffered through the ten-month lockout.

“It’s sad that one person has to take down over 300 people in this plant,” Suher said. (the lockout) has affected a lot of families . . . and this was the reason why we filed NLRB charges.”

The lockout began in May 2016 when workers rejected a company proposal for a new collective bargaining agreement.

Honeywell’s contract proposal was so onerous that it seemed like the company wanted workers to reject it, so that the company could lock them out.

The company’s original  proposal would have resulted “in dramatic cuts in health care, the elimination of the pension plan, and a weakening of the overtime rules,” said Julie Kushner, UAW Region 9A. “In essence, members would be taking pay cuts after the high cost medical plan (was) forced on the workers.”

Additionally, Honeywell wanted to remove health care as a bargaining issue in future collective bargaining agreement negotiations leaving changes to the health care plan entirely up to the company.

After the lockout began, Honeywell imported temporary strike breakers to keep the two factories operating.

The takeaways proposed by Honeywell, the replacement workers hired by Honeywell, and the company’s intransigence at the bargaining table made workers think that the lockout was aimed at breaking their union, which would have been illegal.

With their livelihoods at stake, the workers fought back. They maintained picket lines throughout the strike. They rallied community support for the locked out workers. They conducted an outreach campaign that explained the issues to the public.

Finally in February 2017, the company made an offer that workers could accept, and the lockout came to an end.

This wasn’t the first time in recent history that Honeywell has used a lockout against workers.

The company in 2010 locked out United Steelworkers members at its Metropolis, Illinois uranium processing plant. That lockout lasted 13 months.

Four years later, Honeywell locked out the same workers for seven months.

Honeywell is not alone. Moshe Marvit of the The Century Foundation in a 2016 report finds that “the labor lockout was once a rare phenomenon compared to the strike. . ., but in recent years, the federal courts and (NLRB) have expanded its permissible use.”

The result according to Marvit is that lockouts “now represent a significant portion of work stoppages.”

Furthermore, says Marvit, “This enhancement of management power is designed to weaken the bargaining power of labor.”

Had Honeywell’s trial taken place in May and had the company been found guilty of an illegal lockout, such a ruling would have made lockouts more risky for employers and improved the bargaining position of workers.

But thanks to General Counsel Robb that was not to be.

Robb’s action shouldn’t come as a surprise. Before he was appointed to his present position by President Trump, Robb was a director at Downs Rachlin Martin PLLC, a Vermont law firm.

The National Law Review describes Robb as “a long-time management side labor lawyer.”

UAW Vice President Jimmy Settles said that the fact that Robb is a political appointee should make workers take notice at election time.

“This case shows why we must support candidates who will advance the interests of hard-working Americans and their families over big business,” Settles said.

 

Union files suit to halt AT&T layoffs

Here’s a link to a podcast about this article on Union Edge radio: https://goo.gl/VZRuZQ

The Communication Workers of America (CWA) called a pre-Christmas announcement by AT&T that it will be laying off more than 700 workers in its Southwest region “an extraordinary act of corporate cruelty.”

The union on January 3 filed a lawsuit in a federal court in Austin seeking to stop the layoffs and to reinstate those who subsequently lose their jobs. The lawsuit also seeks compensation for workers harmed by the layoffs.

AT&T, which announced the layoffs on December 14, said that the layoffs would begin on January 4 when 152 premises technicians in Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas will lose their jobs.

Premises technicians install AT&T’s internet and internet-based television services.

The company also said that in February, 561 more workers in various job titles will lose their jobs.

Claude Cummings, CWA District 6 vice president, described the layoffs as unprecedented because they come at a time when the company is highly profitable and expanding.

Cummings also noted that AT&T is relying heavily on subcontractors to perform work that union workers could be doing.

“We know that AT&T is using contract employees to do installation work while AT&T premises technicians, who are qualified and do the same work, will be jobless in just a few days,” said Cummings when the union filed suit.

The company justified its mass firings as a business decision based on “changing market dynamics.”

But the union isn’t convinced that “changing market dynamics” is the real reason for the layoffs.

The internet and internet-based television services that premises technicians install are highly profitable and are growing components of AT&T’s business.

In a recent media release aimed at investors, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said that the company’s internet and television business is expanding rapidly.

“We’re . . . on track to have one of the largest high-speed internet networks in the US, reaching more than 50 million customer locations with competitive high speeds,” said Stephenson in a release announcing AT&T’s third quarter results. “This expansion will make our bundled video, mobile, and broadband services even more compelling.”

In the same message to investors, Stephenson said that the company’s third quarter revenue was $39.7 billion and its quarterly profit was $3 billion.

In its lawsuit, the union called the company’s publicly stated reason for the layoffs “a self-serving fabricated fiction” and “palpably false.”

According to the union’s complaint, there is no shortage of work at AT&T.

“In the Austin, Texas area, the Company is subcontracting approximately 80 percent or more of the kinds of work that Premises Technicians are trained and qualified to perform,” states the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also points out that in Dallas, 1000 subcontractors are performing the work of premises technicians.

After being notified on December 12, that the company would be laying off union members, Cummings contacted AT&T and proposed alternatives to the layoffs.

Cummings told the company that it should use union workers to perform the work being done by subcontractors.

He also said that the layoffs should be postponed until the company and union could meet to discuss his proposal and other alternatives to layoffs.

But the company refused to discuss the matter, which the union argues is a violation of Article VIII of its collective bargaining agreement with AT&T.

In addition to layoffs in its Southwest region, AT&T has announced layoffs in other areas of the country as well.

Newsweek on Christmas Eve reported that “AT&T plans to layoff and fire more than 1000 workers” in 2018.

The Chicago Tribune reported that AT&T will be laying off 600 workers in its Midwest region.

In New York, 700 DirecTV installers received pre-Christmas pink slips. DirecTV is owned by AT&T.

These firings come just weeks after Stephenson promised Congress that if it passed the massive corporate tax cut proposed by Republicans, the company would add thousands of new jobs.

In its lawsuit, the union blames the layoffs on the company’s attempt to “diminish the union’s bargaining strength” by reducing the number of employees in the bargaining unit represented by the union.

In a parallel legal action, the union also filed  unfair labor practices charges against AT&T with the National Labor Relations Board.

The union’s charge states that AT&T’s layoffs are being implemented in bad faith because the company is violating its collective bargaining agreement with the union by contracting out work that should be done by union members.

“We expected AT&T to invest in our communities and customers, and to create more jobs, as the Republican tax plan promised,” said Cummings. “Instead, AT&T is cutting jobs and working people face layoffs and an uncertain future.”

Worker safety experts: Court ruling on silica dust limits is a “huge victory”

A US Appeals Court in Washington DC upheld new Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) rules that improve worker protections against deadly exposure to silica dust.

Silica dust is the product of grinding, drilling, abrasive blasting, and milling of substances used by the construction, ship building and maintenance, mining, foundry, and hydraulic fracking industries.

Exposure to silica dust, a hundred times smaller than a tiny grain of sand, can cause silicosis, a progressive and irreversible lung disease, as well as lung cancer and other serious respiratory problems.

The court observed that “silicosis is the most prevalent chronic occupational disease in the world” and that 2 million workers in the US are exposed to silica dust.

In its ruling, the court said that OSHA, which issued the new rules in 2016, acted properly when it lowered the allowable level of silica dust exposure at work.

Business groups, led by the US Chamber of Commerce, had challenged OSHA’s new worker safety rules calling them unnecessary.

Occupational health experts praised the court’s decision.

This is a huge win for millions of workers in construction, foundries, mining, shipbuilding, and many other industries. Low-wage workers and those in the informal sector can now be assured of safer working conditions,” said Jessica Martinez, co-executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (NCOSH).

In 1971, OSHA first established silica dust exposure levels. The agency set the upper limit of exposure at 100 micrograms per cubic meter for general industry and 250 micrograms per cubic meter for the construction industry.

By the 1990s there was concern that these levels were too high and that too many workers were being exposed to unsafe and unhealthy levels of silica dust.

OSHA conducted painstaking research that lasted nearly 20 years. As a result of this research, OSHA determined that the exposure level should be lowered to 50 micrograms per cubic meter for all industries.

OSHA also determined that employers should provide periodic, free medical examinations to workers exposed to silica dust to determine whether they were at risk of developing silicosis or other associated diseases.

Business groups opposing the new OSHA rules argued that current exposure levels were sufficient to protect workers.

But the Court found that OSHA’s estimates that the lower exposure levels would save nearly 650 lives a year and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis and related lung diseases a year to be persuasive.

Businesses also objected to the medical screening requirements of the new regulations and to an additional requirement that allows workers to withhold the results of their screenings from their employers.

The Court found that OSHA acted within in its authority when it issued the medical screening requirement and that workers have a right to privacy regarding the results of their own medical screening.

Some unions challenged the new OSHA rules saying that they didn’t go far enough.

The North American Building Trades Unions (NABTU), a federation of construction industry unions, wanted the new rules to tighten up language regarding workers who will be eligible to receive periodic, free medical treatment.

The Court ruled against NABTU and allowed the language in the new rule to stand.

Despite this setback, Chris Cain, director of safety and health for NABTU, called the overall Court ruling a “huge win for the nation’s construction workers and affirms that OSHA put out a strong science-based standard.”

Other unions wanted the new regulations to guarantee that workers who have to be removed from a job because of health effects resulting from silica exposure will not have their wages lowered.

The Court remanded this challenge back to OSHA for further study.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, praised the decision.

“Working people won a huge victory today with the court’s decision fully upholding OSHA’s 2016 final silica standard,” said Trumka. “This will protect millions of workers from disabling disease and save thousands of lives. The court rejected industries’ arguments and directed the agency to further consider additional union safety recommendations.”

Martinez said that the court ruling presents a clear path forward.

“Now that industry’s challenge to this sensible, life-saving rule has failed, OSHA must focus on rigorous enforcement,” Martinez said. “National COSH will continue our efforts to inform workers about how to exercise their right to a workplace free from harmful dust and other hazards.”

 

 

 

Union and workers charge T-Mobile and others with age discrimination

The Communication Workers of America (CWA) and three workers filed an age discrimination lawsuit against T-Mobile, Amazon, Cox Communications Media Group, and hundreds of other large US corporations.

The lawsuit, Communications Workers of America et al. v. T-Mobile US, Inc. et al., charges the corporations with coordinating with Facebook to block older workers from receiving job advertisements, an illegal act that violates federal, state, and local laws against age discrimination.

According to the plaintiffs’ complaint, large corporations “eliminate older workers from receiving job ads by specifically targeting their employment ads to younger workers via Facebook’s ad platform.”

“The practice is systematic in the American economy,” continues the complaint, filed in a San Francisco federal court.

“Today, the primary way workers find out about job openings is online, including by getting job ads on Facebook,” said Linda Bradley, a 45 year-old unemployed call center worker and one of the plaintiffs. “It’s not right if people my age are deliberately screened out, and I don’t even get the chance to hear about jobs that I know I have the skills to do.”

The lawsuit includes pictures of Facebook job ads from a number of large corporations and an explanation accompanying each ad.

The explanation tells users that they received the ad because the company is targeting potential applicants who fall into a company-designated age range.

One such explanation for a T-Mobile job ad tells Facebook users that “T-Mobile wants to reach people ages 18 to 38 who live or recently lived in the US.”

Other explanations also contain age ranges, none of which include an age higher than 55 years old.

The lawsuit asks the judge to designate it as a class action lawsuit and asks for an injunction against T-Mobile, Amazon, Cox, and other large employers to stop them from excluding older workers from seeing their job ads.

It also seeks compensation for older workers who have been denied job opportunities.

Two of the plaintiffs, Bradley and Lura Callahan, live in Franklin County, Ohio where Columbus, the state capital, is located.

They are both experienced call center workers who have been laid off from their jobs and are looking for work.

“Living in Ohio, it’s hard to find a good job that pays a living wage,” said Callahan, who is 67 years old. “I’m upset that so many companies are blocking me and other workers from even learning about job opportunities.”

The other plaintiff is Maurice Anscombe, a 57-year-old laid off cable technician with 20 years of experience who lives in Baltimore, County, Maryland. Anscombe has also worked as a law enforcement officer.

One of the attorneys for the plaintiffs is David Lopez, a civil rights attorney with the law firm of Outten & Golden.

“In decades as a civil rights lawyer, I have never seen job ads like these that expressly target young workers and exclude older workers,” said Lopez “The law requires equal opportunity in advertising, recruiting, and hiring.”

“It’s illegal and immoral to exclude older workers from receiving a company’s job ads,” added Peter Romer-Friedman, another attorney with  Outten & Golden representing the plaintiffs. “This harmful practice must stop today. We are hopeful that this class action will end systemic age discrimination in online job recruiting.”

The complaint also faults Facebook for allowing these discriminatory ads to be broadcast.

“Facebook continues to profit from employment discrimination by helping employers and employment agencies to unlawfully exclude older workers from receiving job ads and information,” states the complaint

Facebook’s “search for greater profits. . . has turned its powerful ad platform into a conduit for age discrimination,” continues the complaint.

Facebook has also faced charges that its ad platform allows advertisers to exclude African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans from “receiving ads for various economic opportunities, including housing and employment ads,” states CWA in a media release.

A 2016 report by Pro Publica found that Facebook “gives advertisers the ability to exclude specific groups it calls ‘Ethnic Affinities.’ Ads that exclude people based on race, gender and other sensitive factors are prohibited by federal law in housing and employment.”

The Pro Publica piece showed a Facebook ad for housing that excluded African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans from receiving the ad.

Facebook is not named as a defendant in CWA, et al. vs. T-Mobile et al., but the suit laments the fact that Facebook “has not lived up to its great potential to help workers.”

Faith/labor coalition urges USDA to reject poultry industry speed up petition

A trade association of poultry producers thinks that production lines in poultry processing facilities are too slow, and it has petitioned the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to allow companies to speed up their production lines.

The National Chicken Council in September petitioned the USDA to waive federal regulations that cap poultry production line speeds at 140 birds per minute.

Interfaith Worker Justice (IJW), a leading organization of a faith/labor coalition opposing the request, said that lifting the waiver will make a bad situation worse.

“Poultry line speeds have for years been capped at 140 birds per minute, a rate that already causes countless injuries and illnesses every year to the workers who must make the same two or three cuts thousands of time over the course of a single shift. Carpal tunnel syndrome and other chronic injuries are common, as are amputations,” said IJW in a media release.

Deborah Berkowitz, senior fellow for worker safety and health at the National Employment Law Project, said that poultry workers also face serious threats to their health because they are exposed to hazardous chemicals and because their employers limit their bathroom breaks in order to keep fast-paced production lines moving.

The Chicken Council’s petition says that increased line speeds will result in cost savings that are “consistent with the regulatory reform initiatives recently put in place by the President, and the waivers are consistent with the Administration’s emphasis on reducing regulatory burdens on the industry.”

The petition also says that food safety won’t be affected by the speed up, but it didn’t say anything about the speed up’s impact on worker safety and health.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO), however, did have something on this subject and it wasn’t good.

The GAO conducted a study of worker safety at meat and poultry production facilities in the US. In November, it issued a report on its findings.

The agency’s report says that meat and poultry workers work in close quarters with sharp knives; the floors on the production line are wet; machines at the facilities can be dangerous, and workers can also be exposed to hazardous chemicals.

Workers told GAO employees that production lines moves so fast and relentlessly that they don’t have time to take bathroom breaks.

These conditions, according to the report, make “meat and poultry slaughter and processing one of the most hazardous industries in the United States.”

The GAO report isn’t the only source that calls attention to the worker safety problems at poultry processing plants.

The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine reports that the poultry industry is “a leading source of reports of occupational finger amputations.”

Berkowitz said that based on these findings and others, “the USDA must reject the (poultry) industry’s petition.”

“Poultry workers already work in harsh conditions and at breakneck line speeds,” Berkowitz said. “As a result, even industry-reported statistics show that workers face illness rates five times the national average. Among all industries reporting to the federal government, the poultry industry had a higher number of severe injuries than much of the construction industry, the auto industry, the steel industry, and the saw mill industry,”

The faith and labor coalition on December 12 rallied in Washington DC, and a delegation hand delivered letters to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue and Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Carmen Rottenberg urging them “to keep line speeds as they are and reject industry pressure to deregulate.”

Marc Perrone,  president of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union, also sent Perdue a letter.

“Deciding to increase line speeds while so many poultry workers are enduring dehumanizing and dangerous conditions makes no sense,” writes Perrone.

“Now is the time for the USDA to take more decisive steps to protect vulnerable workers inside poultry plants–particularly at non union plants where they routinely struggle to speak up about inhumane conditions–not to end speed limits,” continues Perrone. “For the sake of protecting hard working poultry workers and American families who consume chicken, rejecting this line speed petition is the right thing to do.”