America’s Largest Food and Retail Union Urges USDA to Prioritize a Series of Critical Safety Actions, including Testing and Personal Protection Equipment for All Meatpacking and Food Workers
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union, which represents more than 250,000 meatpacking and food processing workers across the country, sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) calling on Secretary Sonny Perdue to take a series of immediate actions to protect meatpacking workers and our nation’s food supply.
UFCW International President Marc Perrone released the following statement:
“America’s meatpacking workers have been on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic from the beginning, working tirelessly to make sure families have the food they need during this crisis. These brave men and women are providing an essential service despite enormous risk to their own health and the health of their families. Every day, these workers are not only putting their lives on the line to protect our nation’s food supply, they continue to work in some of the most difficult conditions imaginable.
“The threat these workers face during this outbreak is real and their safety concerns must be addressed immediately. At least six of our own members in meatpacking facilities have tragically passed away and hundreds more have been impacted by this ongoing pandemic. All across the country, we are witnessing meatpacking facilities having to close down, endangering our food supply at the worst possible moment.
“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.”
Today’s UFCW letter calls on the USDA to take five immediate steps to protect meatpacking workers from the Coronavirus:
- Prioritize Essential Workers for Testing: In order to ensure the health and safety of workers and protect the food supply, essential workers, such as those in meatpacking and food processing, must be prioritized for testing
- Immediate Access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Though social and physical distancing are essential to preventing the spread of COVID-19, workers still need access to PPE, such as masks and gloves. The reality is that many of our meatpacking members lack the critical personal protection equipment necessary to do their job and reduce the risk of exposure. It is essential that the USDA, in conjunction with the White House Task force, prioritize all meatpacking and food workers for PPE to ensure the health and safety of these workers and to protect our food supply.
- Immediate Halt On Line Speed Waivers: In the first two weeks of this month, the USDA’s Food and Safety Inspection Service approved 11 regulatory waivers for poultry plants to increase their maximum line speed. Rather than protect our food supply and workers, these waivers guarantee that workers are more crowded along a meatpacking line and more workers are put at risk of either catching or spreading the virus. It is critical that the USDA immediately cease granting any new waivers and suspend all existing waivers that allow plants to operate at faster speeds.
- Mandate Social Distancing Where Possible: In order to responsibly protect workers and prevent spread of the disease, companies must enforce and practice six-foot social and physical distancing to the greatest extent possible, even if this means production slows down. Where distancing is not possible, companies should use plexiglass barriers to separate and protect workers, and/or ensure that all workers are provided with masks that can safely be used under these extreme conditions.
- Isolate Workers Who Show Symptoms or Test Positive for COVID-19: In light of the largest outbreak to date at Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, it is critical to identify and isolate workers who have tested positive or who exhibit symptoms of 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.
The UFCW is the largest private sector union in the United States, representing 1.3 million professionals and their families in grocery stores, meatpacking, food processing, retail shops and other industries.
Our members help put food on our nation’s tables and serve customers in all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico. Learn more about the UFCW at www.ufcw.org.