USA Meat processors brace for feds' approach to labor issues

By Tom Johnston on 2/11/2010
INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — If federal officials have not come knocking on your plant's door, chances are they soon will, labor relations attorney Rick Alaniz told meat industry members here at the National Meat Association's annual conference. He spoke during a forum covering workplace issues.

A White House administration intent on enforcing labor laws as they pertain to employers means, for example, that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau will make more visits to check that employers are not hiring unauthorized workers, Alaniz said.

ICE recently sent I-9 audit invitations to 1,600 targeted employers.

The government's focus also means, for example, that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, as part of its recently announced National Emphasis Program, will intensify inspection of records regarding worker injuries and illnesses to evaluate their accuracy.

Industry injury rates have declined to the point where, Alaniz said, the Department of Labor's view is that meat processors are not honestly reporting injuries. As part of these record-keeping audits, OSHA also will be interviewing employees.

"This is an example of what we're seeing from this administration," Alaniz said.

NMA members said in a meeting following Alaniz's forum talk that they would begin to explore different means of addressing such issues.