State ignores 2007 meatpacker rights law
ST. PAUL -- A Minnesota state department has not followed a law to notify meatpacking plants and workers about protections the state provides. Pointing to a bookshelf full of Minnesota laws, Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles said Wednesday, "one of ...
ST. PAUL -- A Minnesota state department has not followed a law to notify meatpacking plants and workers about protections the state provides.
Pointing to a bookshelf full of Minnesota laws, Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles said Wednesday, "one of them sort of got lost."
The law that was not followed is known as the Packinghouse Workers' Bill of Rights, passed in 2007, requiring meatpacking companies to tell workers information about their jobs, including hazards they may face, the fact that they may join unions and that they must be free from discrimination. It requires the information to be passed on to workers "in their native language."
Once an initial letter went to packing houses in 2007, there has been no bill of rights follow-up, Nobles' office reported.
Commissioner Ken Peterson of the state Labor and Industry Department said that the requirement slipped by when he took office in 2010, but said the department already is taking steps to fix the problem. Bill of rights information now is on the department website, he said, and letters soon will go to 33 packing houses, mostly southern, western and central Minnesota.
"It will make us a better agency," Peterson said after the audit was released.
Peterson said that fewer injuries are reported in the industry. "Worksites are getting safer."
Rep. Rick Hansen, D-South St. Paul, chairman of the legislative audit committee, said that Wednesday's report should give the Legislature direction about how to deal with meatpackers and other manufacturers.
Rep. Jeanne Poppe, D-Austin, and Sen. Lyle Koenen, D-Clara City, praised the audit and said the Legislature needs to do little to respond beyond minor tweaking.
The good news in the report, Poppe said, is "to know that the number of injuries has gone down."
Legislative audit worker David Kirchner reported that meatpacking plants have similar injury rates to other manufacturers, although concerns remain in what is considered a high-risk job.
He suggested that the Legislature should consider whether a similar bill of rights is needed in other high-hazard jobs and those with a large number of immigrant workers.
Improving communication with meatpacking workers is important, Kirchner said, especially because more workers are coming from other counties, including those from east Africa and southeast Asia.
Also, he said, "there is a lot of turnover in the meatpacking industry."