(CN) — A food workers union sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture in federal court Monday, challenging a Trump administration rule change that would speed up pork production by shifting food quality and safety responsibilities from regulators to workers in pork processing plants.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union claims the new USDA rule alters the method in which swine may be slaughtered and processed for food, and reduces consumer safety protections. It says the rule discards line speed limits and reduces the number of government-employed safety inspectors on lines, while allowing plants to use untrained employees.
“The rule dramatically alters the way in which pigs are slaughtered and processed for human consumption in the United States, abandoning protections for American workers and consumers that have been in place for decades,” the 20-page complaint states. Plaintiffs include three UFCW locals and the union itself.
The UFCW claims thousands of commenters, including the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics, criticized the USDA and its rulemaking process. Critics say the new pork processing standards will jeopardize the lives of both workers and consumers of pork products.
The USDA did not dispute evidence critical of eliminating maximum line speed, but claimed that it lacked the authority to regulate processing speeds.
The union rejects that.
“USDA’s failure to consider the impacts of its actions on worker safety was arbitrary and capricious, as was its failure to acknowledge and explain its departure from past practice considering such impacts,” the complaint states.
The USDA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The union wants the rule changes set aside as “arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law,” and its enforcement enjoined, plus costs of suit.
Its lead counsel is Timothy Louris with Miller, O’Brien and Jensen, of Minneapolis, assisted by the Public Citizen Litigation Group and UFCW house counsel, both of Washington, D.C.