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April 23, 2020

America’s National Meatpacking Union Urges White House Task Force to Take Immediate Action to Protect Meatpacking Workers & National Food Supply 

UFCW Releases New Estimates on Impact of Coronavirus on Meatpacking Workers – Including Infections, Deaths, Impact on National Food Supply

During National Press Conference Call, UFCW Leaders & Meatpacking Workers Highlight Challenges Posed by Coronavirus at Plants in South Dakota, Iowa, Georgia, Texas, and Kansas 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union, America’s largest meatpacking and food processing union, held a national press conference call to highlight the impact of the Coronavirus on meatpacking and food processing workers and to urge the White House Coronavirus Task Force to take five immediate actions to protect these essential meatpacking and food processing workers.

In the letter to Vice President Pence, the UFCW International urgently called for the White House Coronavirus Task Force to prioritize five safety actions targeted toward the meatpacking industry, including: (1) increased worker testing, (2) priority access to PPE, (3) halting line speed waivers, (4) mandating social distancing, and (5) isolating workers with symptoms or testing positive for COVID-19.

The UFCW also released new updates on the serious and deadly impact of the Covid-19 virus. As of today, and based on UFCW internal estimates, 10 meatpacking workers and 3 food processing workers have died. In addition, at least 5,000 meatpacking workers and 1,500 food processing workers have been directly impacted by the virus. The estimates of those meatpacking and processing workers directly impacted includes individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19, missed work due to self-quarantine, are awaiting test results, or have been hospitalized and/or are symptomatic.

In total, the UFCW identified that 13 plants have closed at some point in the past two months. These closures have resulted in over 24,500 workers impacted and a 25 percent reduction in pork slaughter capacity and a 10 percent reduction in beef slaughter capacity.

“America’s food processing and meatpacking workers are in extreme danger, and our nation’s food supply faces a direct threat from the coronavirus outbreak. If workers in these plants are as essential as our elected leaders say, then it’s about time that our elected leaders provide them with the essential protections they need. Make no mistake, without national safety standards to protect these workers from the coronavirus– more lives will be lost, more workers will be exposed, and our food supply will face jeopardy,” said Marc Perrone, International President of the United Food & Commercial Workers.

During the conference call, the threat to America’s meatpacking workforce was highlighted in very personal terms by five workers from the meatpacking industry who discussed the significant risks they and their co-workers are facing every day in some of the nation’s largest meatpacking facilities. Among the specific risks highlighted by these workers was the challenge posed by a lack of PPE as well as increased line speeds which make social distancing all but impossible.

“Across this country, we are seeing the impact when the government fails to take steps to protect these essential workers. It needs to both provide testing and protective equipment and issue clear and direct safety guidelines that companies can and must enforce. This is not just about whether we will have enough beef, chicken, and pork to feed our families. It is – for these workers – a matter of life and death,” UFCW International President Perrone added.

Further details from the national conference call, including estimates of the coronavirus impact on meatpacking workers and the food supply, information about the workers who spoke out about their personal experiences, and links to the letter sent today to Vice President Pence and the White House Coronavirus Task Force are included below.

Background:

A copy of the letter to Vice President Pence can be found here.

The conference call featured remarks by UFCW International President Marc Perrone, UFCW International Vice President for Meatpacking Mark Lauritsen as well as the following workers from the meatpacking industry who are represented by UFCW:

  • Smithfield pork worker in South Dakota – Achut Deng
  • Cargill beef worker in Kansas – Itzel Goytia
  • JBS pork worker in Iowa – Margarita Heredia
  • Cargill beef worker in Texas – Rhonda Trevino
  • Pilgrim’s Pride maintenance worker in Georgia – Tony Adams

For more information about today’s call, please contact Abraham White at awhite@ufcw.org (202) 341-1899.

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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.