A national union representing workers at poultry processing plants in Missouri and five other states is challenging USDA’s move to increase the maximum amount of birds that plants can process in a minute. The Associated Press reports that the United Food and Commercial Workers have filed a lawsuit in federal court, saying that the faster rate sought by USDA and meatpackers endangers workers and makes it more difficult to protect against the spread of coronavirus. UFCW and local unions representing workers in six states say USDA’s move in 2018 to increase speeds violated the Administrative Procedure Act because no public comment was sought. The plaintiffs also argue that the increased rate of almost three birds slaughtered per second would make adequate worker distancing nearly impossible.

The USDA has granted line speed waivers to 53 chicken processing plants. National Chicken Council spokesman Tom Super told the AP that the safety of increased line speeds have been studied for 25 years. Super added that the rate of injury in poultry processing had fallen over several years, most recently at three-and-a-half cases per 100 full-time workers in 2018.