USDA’s meat, poultry and egg processing inspectors who work for the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) are being warned by their union not to use government time and equipment to access or trade certain information on the web. For example, off-limits during work time and/or using work equipment is a “Union Thugs” site, which sells provocative T-shirts online. One shirt states, “Union Thugs Never Surrender,” while another has a longer message: “If You’re Jealous of Our Benefits, Fight For Your Own, Not Against Ours!” A union website, The-Inspector.com, has posted a warning on its link to the online T-shirt shop. The warning reads: “IMPORTANT: This information should not be downloaded using government equipment, read during duty time or sent to others using government equipment, because it suggests action to be taken in support or against legislation. Do not use your government email address or government phone in contacting your Member of Congress. Do not distribute on government property – AFGE” That same warning is being included on some news articles posted by The-Inspector.com. (Disclosure: Food Safety News articles are often republished on The-Inspector.com.) One straight news story that currently carries the warning is from AFGE itself, or the American Federation of Government Employees. That story reports on a “double standard” set up by the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) for people who had their personal data hacked. “OPM has offered the 4.2 million current and former federal employees whose information was stolen during the hack of OPM’s personnel records with an inadequate 18 months of credit monitoring and a maximum of $1 million in liability insurance,” the AFGE story reads. “Meanwhile, the agency is offering a more expansive ‘suite of remedies’ to those whose information was stolen in a hack of OPM’s background investigations system. Those affected by the second breach will reportedly receive three years of credit monitoring, an undisclosed amount of liability insurance, fraud monitoring services beyond credit files, and identity monitoring for minor children,” it continues. Stan Painter, chairman of AFGE’s National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals, told Food Safety News that the warning on some items is new. “This is due to the agency and the government trying to discipline for ‘unauthorized’ use and distribution on government equipment,” Painter said. “Some issues, such as contacting congressmen, is to be done on a person’s own time and through their own devices separate from the use of government equipment … . We are just trying to keep folks out of trouble.” The-Inspector.com provides one-stop shopping for the nation’s meat and poultry inspectors. They can check for news and union announcements and also for such details as current pay scales, per-diem rates, and even specific benefits. Most of the news posted by The-Inspector.com does not carrying the warning, including a recent KQED News report on the hiring nationally of 32 additional meat inspectors to meet a tougher standard in the wake of the Petaluma, CA, slaughterhouse scandal. Two employees and two former owners of Rancho Feeding Corporation pleaded guilty to felony charges stemming from a scheme to sell cows with diseased eyes right under the nose of USDA inspectors. They are currently awaiting sentencing. In that report, Painter charged that USDA procedures too often put the nation’s 6,000 union meat, poultry and egg inspectors in dangerous working conditions. “To stick a person in the middle of a barn with cows in the middle of the winter in Wisconsin where it’s minus 30 degrees is not acceptable,” Painter told KQED. One thing is for certain: USDA employees have a lot to learn about keeping out of trouble. The USDA’s Office of Ethics Advisor’s Desk Reference is 39 pages long.
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