UFCW union asks USDA for meat plant worker protections

UFCW union asks USDA for meat plant worker protections

By Susan Kelly on 4/23/2020

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) sent a letter to USDA this week calling for a series of actions to protect plant employees and the nation’s food supply.

The union, which represents more than 250,000 U.S. meatpacking and food processing workers, said at least six of its members in meatpacking facilities have died and hundreds more have been affected by the ongoing pandemic.

UFCW urged five immediate steps to protect meatpacking workers from the coronavirus:

  • Prioritize workers for testing: Essential workers include those in meatpacking and food processing.
  • Provide access to personal protective equipment: It is essential that USDA, in conjunction with the White House Task force, prioritize all meatpacking and food workers for PPE such as masks and gloves, the union said.
  • Halt line speed waivers: Cease granting any new waivers and suspend all existing waivers that allow plants to operate at faster speeds.
  • Mandate social distancing where possible: Companies must enforce six-foot social and physical distancing to the greatest extent possible, even if it slows production. Where distancing is not possible, companies should use plexiglass barriers to separate workers.
  • Isolate workers who show symptoms or test positive for COVID-19: These workers should be allowed to quarantine at home, with pay, per the recommendations set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“For the sake of these workers and our nation, it is clear that more must be done now. We are urgently calling on Secretary Perdue to adopt a series of safety actions and enact immediate guidelines to protect these essential workers which, in turn, will protect our communities and this nation’s food supply,” UFCW International President Marc Perrone said in a statement.

Last week, UFCW and grocery giant Kroger Co. said they were pressing federal and state officials to designate grocery workers as extended first responders or emergency personnel, with the aim of gaining priority access to personal protection equipment like masks and gloves.

To access Meatingplace’s ongoing coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, click here. To access our map of processing plants that have reported positive tests among employees, have closed and/or have reopened, click here.