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Making Pork Labor Less Horrible

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See, the goal of Donald Trump and all his enablers has always been to make the lives of the poor as bad as possible, especially if there’s money in it for them. So that “administration,” if we can really use that word to describe those four years, implemented new rules that allowed pork processing plants to speed up the work even more than it already was, making a tough, dangerous job all the more tough and dangerous. The courts have intervened and the Biden administration is returning the speeds back to what they were during the Obama years.

The USDA notified plant owners on Wednesday that they have until the end of June to reduce speeds to the previous legal limit of 1,106 hogs per hour, or 18 hogs per minute.

Eight large pork plants were given approval to raise their line speeds as high as they wanted under the Trump-era program, which also gave pork plant owners greater control over their facilities by allowing them to replace some USDA inspectors on slaughter lines with their own employees. The court ruling will not have an effect on this part of the program, which has been criticized by USDA inspectors and consumer advocacy groups as potentially endangering food safety.

The lawsuit was brought by United Food and Commercial Workers International, the union that represents the meat plant workers, and Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy organization.

“This is very significant. Workers’ hands are sore, their bodies are literally being torn apart,” said Martin Rosas, a former meat plant worker and president of UFCW Local 2, which covers Kansas, Missouri and the panhandle of Oklahoma. “I hope this sends a clear, strong message to the industry that finally someone made the workers a priority.”

Illness and injuries for people who work in meatpacking plants are about 16 times the average for all other industries in the nation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The National Pork Producers Council said in a statement that it was “disappointed” in the USDA’s decision to support a court ruling it said was “flawed.”

Of course, these higher speeds also coincided with the rapid spread of COVID-19 through the packing plants as they became mass transmission sites. Those workers were “heroes” or something so long as they got our meat in nice packages whenever we wanted it and utterly irrelevant to our society in every other way. Still, all such victories have to be seen as temporary in a world where Republicans want to recreate The Jungle.

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