May 27, 2020
Dozens of hardworking men and women at Hearthside Food Solutions in Byhalia, Mississippi voted to start a union at their work by joining the UFCW. Hearthside operates the country’s largest privately-held bakery, and major baked good brands outsource production to the company. Workers at the Byhalia facility primarily package Kellogg’s cereal many families depend on to start their day.
Concerns about the coronavirus have caused many employees to want to have more of a say in the policies and protocols at work that impact their health and safety both during work hours and after they go home to their loved ones.
In addition to health and safety concerns, the company employs more temporary workers than full-time, leaving many workers without access to benefits even though they are performing the same work.
Rose Turner, UFCW Local 1529 staff who helped the workers organize, knows what it feels like to work without a say on the job or benefits you need to take care of yourself and your family. A long-time organizer with the UFCW, she got her start in 1981 as a nursing home worker in the deep south. When workers decided to try and organize to join UFCW Local 1529 that year, Rose immediately got involved, hoping to change the working conditions: “At that time there was no family medical leave. Women–when they got pregnant, they went out and came back [after giving birth] and they didn’t have a job. You were penalized for getting pregnant, because you had no job. One woman even slipped in the kitchen a broke her knee, [and in order for her to not lose her job] her daughter had to come work while she was out.”
While some progress has been made over the years, employers still look for ways to cut costs at the expense of workers. For Hearthside, the heavy reliance on temp workers comes at a cost to the workers themselves.
“It’s 200 temps in that place, doing the same job that the regular employees are doing…It’s unfair to them,” Turner said. “You don’t have any benefit no more than getting a check every paid period. You don’t have no holiday, no vacation and you can’t buy anything…it’s not a permanent job.”
Full-time employees make $16-$18 per hour, Turner said.
“Money is good but people want to be treated fairly, with dignity and respect, and they want to be paid and know their benefits,” added Turner.
May 5, 2020
UFCW Local 304A member speaks about life as a packinghouse worker during COVID-19 on “The Daily” podcast
When UFCW Local 304A member Achut Deng started her job at Smithfield in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, she was happy to find work that would allow her to build a better life for her three boys than the one she’d had growing up in refugee camps in Africa. Work at the plant is hard, but pays well and offers benefits that have allowed her to support not only herself and her children, but her family back home in Sudan. Every day, she goes to work and takes pride in helping make sure the bacon, ham, hot dogs, and other pork processed at the facility are safe and ready to feed families around the world. But when the coronavirus hit, Deng unexpectedly found herself at the center of the pandemic. Caitlin Dickerson of The New York Times spoke with Deng about her story.
When Deng was a child, there was a terrorist attack on her home in south Sudan. As an orphan, she fled the country and grew up in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. She often went days without any food or fresh water, and many of her friends died. She didn’t know if she was ever going to leave, and learned to take life one day at a time. “I would say it was just surviving because you don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow, you know?” said Deng.
In 2000, Deng was chosen for a program that relocated Sudanese orphans to the United States. When she got the news she would be leaving for America, she was so happy couldn’t sleep. She moved to Kansas City and started a new chapter in her life. She graduated high school, then went on to community college. After school, she started waitressing before working private security in her early 20s.
She ended up moving to Sioux Falls, South Dakota for the same reason many young people move- to pursue a relationship. “I always tell people I moved to Sioux Falls for a pretty stupid reason,” she laughs. “I was thinking I would find a man. So that was pretty much the reason right there. I moved in with my younger son’s father, then we broke up. “
With so many people dependent on her as breadwinner, Deng had told her ex she would need a job as soon as she moved out, and he told her about the job at Smithfield. Work there was hard, but paid well. “A lot of people came to Sioux Falls because of Smithfield and what it was offering people. I know a lot of Sudanese families came here because of Smithfield.”
Deng put in her application and started right away as a Whizard knife operator trimming the fat from the loin as it zooms past. More than 10,000 pigs are processed there a day, and production at her plant alone accounts for 4-5% of all pork that is processed in the United States.
“When I started? Hard work. Hard work is what I thought of it, but you’re not really thinking of how hard it is, you are thinking of money and everything. Once you get the paycheck, you are able to pay for the apartment. You are able to put food on the table. These are the things that I was thinking.”
“Once you start doing something for the first time, something that you’ve never done, your muscles are going to reject it. Your body is going to reject it. So I was always sore.”
Deng has held a number of jobs in the plant over the years. She became a shift lead and works about 11-12 hours days six days a week. With the overtime and her higher pay, she was even able to take her children to Disney World last year.
“My boys, all three of them, it means I can give them what I never had. Which is a better life at a young age. When I went there, I cried, but it was tears of happiness. I am American by papers. I can bring my kids here. And that was something I did. I was so proud of myself. “
Deng’s also uses her salary to support five family members who are still in Africa. “So this job, it allows me to take care of everybody else, not just my boys. So that’s why I pick up overtime, regardless of me being tired. Every morning when I go to work, I put everything that the company offered me in order to go to work this food that I’m making doesn’t have anything that can go and harm someone. Because this food is going to families. It’s going to children. It’s going to mothers. It’s going to fathers. Uncles. Aunts. Everyone around the world. Working at the meat factory, I’m making food for people around the world. I think of that every day. “
When she and her coworkers first heard about COVID-19, thought it was just something that was going to stay in China. Then as the virus spread to the United States, it was difficult to tell how big of a threat it would be. “Most of us as immigrants and refugees, it’s like, well, maybe people are just being extra about it, you know? Maybe it’s not that bad. For me personally, I’ve been through so much. If this is just like a virus, you’re talking to someone who had malaria, you know? I survived that. So it was like, if it’s going to be like malaria, I can go through it. It’s just going to be like any other thing that I’ve been through. “
But then things changed. Cleaning was stepped up in the plant, but with 150-160 people on each shift and many of them working side by side, Deng and her coworkers started to grow nervous.
Then on Saturday, March 28th, her supervisor pulled her aside and asked if she had any fever or cough. One of the machine operators she had worked with that morning had tested positive, and Deng was sent home to quarantine for two weeks. “I didn’t say it out loud, but I’m thinking, ‘they are being silly.’”
“Monday night I went to bed feeling ok. I woke up about 2am with this sharp pain in my body that just feels like someone has stabbed me. So I went to the bathroom and said, maybe if I take a shower, it will be better. But when the water hit my body, it felt like a bunch of rocks were being thrown at my body.”
Her skin hurt, and by Thursday night her body was so exhausted, even walking was difficult and it felt like something heavy was sitting on her chest. The fear kicked in as she started having trouble breathing, and she refused to fall sleep because she was afraid of not waking up. The experiences from her childhood flooded back, along with the fear that her children would face the same ordeals she went through being an orphan and not having parents to support them. “If I die, my kids will go through the same thing I’ve been through. The loneliness. I’m thinking, I bring these kids to this world. I’ve been through everything I’ve been through and I never had a chance to tell them. They don’t know their mom. They don’t know what their mom went through. All they know is their mom is a work-a-holic, “she would do anything to give us a better life,” that’s all they know. It’s not a perfect world. I make it perfect for them. But if I die, this world is not perfect anymore.”
As more workers got sick, the situation in Sioux Falls started to get nation attention. The number of positive cases kept rising up to more than 800 workers, and the governor called on head of Smithfield to stop production. On April 12th, Smithfield announced indefinite closure, while more and more plants around the country found themselves facing similarly dire circumstances.
An estimated 22 meatpacking plants have closed – including union and non-union plants – at some point in the past two months. These closures have resulted in over 35,000 workers impacted and a 25 percent reduction in pork slaughter capacity as well as a 10 percent reduction in beef slaughter capacity.
Because of the importance of these workers to our national food supply, President Trump issued an executive order compelling these plants to stay open. But UFCW International President Marc Perrone called on the White House not to treat these workers as sacrificial lambs. “To protect America’s food supply, America’s meatpacking workers must be protected,” said Perrone. “The reality is that these workers are putting their lives on the line every day to keep our country fed during this deadly outbreak”
The UFCW is urging the Administration to immediately enact clear and enforceable safety standards that compel all meatpacking companies to provide the highest level of protective equipment through access to the federal stockpile of PPE, ensure daily testing is available for workers and their communities, enforce physical distancing at all plants, and provide full paid sick leave for any workers who are infected. Additionally, to protect the food supply and ensure these safety standards for workers are enforced, these plants must be constantly monitored by federal inspectors and workers must have access to representation to ensure their rights are not violated.
On Monday, the Sioux Falls plant began to partially reopen with about 250 employees. Deng is still recovering, but cannot afford to stay home for a long time. “My focus is to try to take care of myself so that when the company opens back up, then I’m ready to go. So that’s where my focus is.”
“Thank you very much for at least giving me the voice. A lot of people don’t understand, but living in the refugee camp, I don’t take anything for granted. Because of what I’ve been through and because of what I see happening to other kids that did not make it. But I am pretty sure they are looking over me and watching over me and I’m going to make them proud. “
April 30, 2020
UFCW Local 354 chemical workers respond to COVID-19 by making hand sanitizer, disinfectant for hospitals
Members of UFCW Local 354 who work at GEO Specialty Chemicals in Cedartown, Ga., in partnership with another local company, recently manufactured thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer and disinfectant in response to the recent coronavirus outbreak. The members are employed as engineering and process technicians.
The GEO Specialty Chemicals Cedartown facility, which manufactures and supplies chemicals worldwide, was recently approached by the local economic development council and industrial development board about the company’s capability of manufacturing hand sanitizer and disinfectant using an approved World Health Organization formula. In partnership with another local company, Meggitt Polymers and Composites in Rockmart, members of UFCW Local 354 quickly and successfully identified on hand raw materials and converted an idle process reactor in the facility to produce enough sanitizer and disinfectant for 2,500 bottles or over 8,000 pounds of hand sanitizer and disinfectant. The bottles will be distributed to local hospitals and other organizations in the area where there is the greatest need.
“We consider our members to be our greatest asset, and the reason for our long history of success at GEO Specialty Chemicals,” said UFCW Local 354 President Jason Stroup. “This is just an extension of our willingness to work together to show what we are capable of when challenged with a project.”
“This is a small, rural and tight knit community of which I am proud to be a part,” Stroup added. “Currently, it is incumbent upon all people of all walks of life to give of themselves during this time of national crisis to help our neighbors, our communities, and our country and put away our differences. I can speak for everyone at GEO and Local 354 when I say it is the least we can do and what we have done here at GEO for the past 83 years.”
April 30, 2020
Last week, the UFCW sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) urging Secretary Sonny Perdue to take a series of immediate actions to protect meatpacking and food processing workers and our nation’s food supply during the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, including testing and access to personal protective equipment (PPE). The UFCW also sent a letter to Vice President Pence, who leads the White House Coronavirus Task Force, urging him to prioritize the same safety actions for these workers. The UFCW represents more than 250,000 meatpacking and food processing workers across the country.
- 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 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 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.
In a press conference call last week, the UFCW released updates on the serious and deadly impact of the COVID-19 virus. Based on the most recent UFCW internal estimates, 20 meatpacking and 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.
New estimates also show that 22 plants, both union and nonunion, have closed at some point in the past two months. These closures have impacted over 35,000 workers and reduced pork slaughter capacity by 25 percent and beef slaughter capacity by 10 percent.
During the conference call, the threat to America’s meatpacking workforce was highlighted in very personal terms by five workers who discussed the significant risks they and their coworkers 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.
“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 UFCW International President Marc Perrone.
“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,” Perrone added.
April 28, 2020
Today, on Workers Memorial Day, the UFCW released a new update on the growing number of frontline workers who have been exposed, sick, and died from COVID-19. As these numbers continue to rise, we are calling on our country’s leaders to take immediate action.
According to the UFCW’s internal reports, there have been at least 72 worker deaths and 5,322 workers directly impacted among the UFCW’s 1.3 million members who work in grocery, retail, pharmacy, meatpacking, and other essential industries.
Those directly impacted include workers who tested positive for COVID-19, missed work due to self-quarantine, are awaiting test results, or have been hospitalized, and/or are symptomatic.
“These workers never signed up to be first responders in an emergency, but that is exactly what they are now and they need protections immediately before more lives are needlessly lost,” said UFCW International President Marc Perrone. “The human cost to America’s food, retail, and commercial workers is real and growing.”
“As we remember all of America’s brave frontline workers, across every industry, who have died from COVID-19, we are calling on all of our country’s leaders in the White House, in Congress, and states across the country to strengthen safety standards and take immediate action to protect the millions of workers who are keeping our communities strong throughout the crisis.”
April 9, 2020
During the coronavirus outbreak, employers, reporters, customers and community groups have been turning to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for guidance on what the government recommended actions are to curb the spread of COVID-19. Yesterday, the UFCW sent a letter to the CDC with our recommendations for safety measures that should be taken in grocery stores, pharmacies, and food packing and processing facilities.
This guidance is based on both the advice of health and safety experts as well as needs we have heard echoed from hard working UFCW members across the country who desperately need better protections in place in order to continue to serve the American public.
“It is absolutely critical that the CDC do more to help protect frontline workers who are at daily risk of becoming infected and even dying from the Coronavirus,” said UFCW International President Marc Perrone. “This is about not just saving the lives of these workers, but also about protecting the customers they serve. It is about protecting and maintaining the safety of our food supply. Keeping these workers safe will help keep America safe. The CDC must act now to issue strong new safety guidance. American lives are on the line. These workers’ lives are on the line. We cannot wait any longer.”
If you are a UFCW member and you are experiencing problems where you work because of COVID-19, please submit a report to us so we can continue to track what is happening across the country.
Grocery Stores and Pharmacies
In-Store Social Distancing
- Limit the number of consumers in a store at any given time to 20 to 30 percent of the store’s capacity.
- Implement procedures to ensure that both employees and customers always remain at least six feet apart.
- Procedures should include a marked “social distancing line” which begins six feet away from all checkout counters.
Improve Disinfecting, Sanitizing & Hygiene Practices
- Employees must be provided with sufficient break times to wash their hands as necessary or, at a minimum, every 30 minutes.
- Sanitize frequent touchpoints, including point of sale terminals at registers throughout the day.
- Provide disinfecting wipes for customers to disinfect carts, as well as at cash registers.
- Designate employee(s) to ensure cleaning guidelines set by the CDC are followed.
- Provide set time to allow for stores to be properly sanitized and re-stocked.
Mandate Wearing of Personal Protective Equipment
- Mandate that all workers wear masks, gloves, and any other personal protective equipment (PPE) available at the workplace.
- Mandate all employers to provide N95 masks, gloves, and other PPE when it becomes available.
Urge Americans to Help Save Lives by Shopping Smart
Call on all Americans to practice the following each time they visit a grocery store or pharmacy:
- Always wear a cloth face cover, ideally a mask, when inside the store.
- Limit number of shoppers to one per family
- Practice social distancing throughout the store – not just at check-out stands.
- Properly discard their own PPE in trash cans.
- Respect special shopping times for seniors.
Food Processing and Packing Plants
Improve Safety Conditions
- Mandate that all employers provide PPE, and that workers wear PPE during the workday.
- Ensure social distancing practices are implemented across the workplace at all times where possible.
- When social distancing is not possible, PPE must be provided and used by all employees. No exceptions.
- Make sure that safety practices are clearly posted throughout facility and are in the necessary languages for employees to read.
- Provide PPEs for workers, including face masks.
Learn more at
April 8, 2020
Senator Sherrod Brown had a personal message for UFCW members hard at work on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis. We appreciate his recognition of their valiant efforts and encourage others in the position to do so to voice their support for the essential workers keeping our communities running.
Thank you to the UFCW members who, right now, are on the job serving the American public. We know that we all have anxieties from this illness and from worries about the future. On top of that are people like UFCW workers who are potentially exposed to this virus who are out doing work while many of us are at home. I am urging this administration to add a pandemic pay so that those workers who are exposing themselves potentially to this virus in food service who are working at grocery stores, who are UFCW members, that they are taken care of. If we care about the dignity of work in this country, we fight for the people who make it work. That means UFCW members who are working to provide us food in our grocery stores around the country.
We agree — any relief package should include “pandemic pay” for ALL food workers who are being exposed to this virus while keeping our communities and our families fed.
For more information, visit www.ufcw.org/coronavirus
April 1, 2020
UFCW and the Kroger Co. announced a new increase to the pay and benefits for the company’s more than 460,000 workers across the country.
Kroger and UFCW have been working closely to ensure that these grocery workers are able to continue to provide the necessary food and supplies to their communities during the coronavirus pandemic. Kroger and UFCW announced the following increases to pay, benefits, and protections for frontline associates across the country:
- $2 Per Hour Pay Increase which will be paid to hourly frontline associates in retail stores, manufacturing plants, distribution centers, central fills, pharmacies and contact call centers for the next three weeks at which point UFCW and Kroger will revisit discussions.
- Providing Emergency Paid Leave: This ensures that any associates who are affected by COVID-19 – whether experiencing symptoms and self-isolating, diagnosed or placed in quarantine – can recover with the financial support they need.
- Additional Cleaning and Sanitizing protocols which include allowing associates to wash their hands and sanitize their registers every 30 minutes.
- Shortened Store Operating Hours to provide ample time to allow restocking, cleaning, and to provide appropriate rest and relief for associates.
- Installing plexiglass partitions at check lanes, pharmacy and Starbucks registers across each store.
- Adding floor decals to promote physical distancing at check lanes and other counters.
- Earlier Access to Pay: Beginning next week, the Kroger Family of Companies is adding ExpressPay – a new benefit that allows most hourly associates to access some of their pay faster, putting money in their pockets sooner than usual.
- Financial Assistance for Childcare and Other Needs: Kroger will make $5 million available for those facing hardship, including lack of access to childcare and for those considered high-risk, due to COVID-19 through the Kroger Family of Companies Helping Hands fund.
- Employee Hotline: Kroger will offer an associate hotline to answer benefit questions quickly.
- Expanded Health Care Services: Kroger will provide access to mental health services and other benefits to support associates’ mental and physical well-being during this stressful time.
“Today’s increase in pay and benefits is an important first step in our ongoing effort to keep customers and workers safe,” said UFCW International president Marc Perrone. “We will continue to listen to our members and will work with Kroger – and all responsible employers – to provide these incredible members and workers the support and protections they need to be able to do a job that is more essential than ever before.”
This agreement applies to all Kroger banners including Ralphs, King Soopers, Food 4 Less, Fred Meyer, Dillons, and more.
March 29, 2020
UFCW talks to MSNBC on the risks of leaving Instacart & grocery workers unprotected during the coronavirus outbreak
ALICIA MENENDEZ: With me now is Marc Perrone, he is the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. The UFCW represents Instacart employees in the Chicago area as well as many other grocery store clerks and food processing workers all across the U.S. and Canada. Thank you so much for being with me. Can you give me a sense, Marc, of what these workers are up against?
MARC PERRONE: Well, Alicia, I think they’re up against their health. If they don’t provide the protective equipment that they need, rapid testing, if they don’t provide hand sanitizer, and disposable wipes so that they can clean the surfaces of their vehicles, as well as their hands, they have a very good possibility that they could contract the virus.
They also have the possibility of being able to spread the virus because of the fact that they’re going into all these transmission points to pick up groceries and bring them to different people. You have to think about it for a second. If somebody is getting their groceries delivered to them, they may be under quarantine and if they are under quarantine, it would be a good reason for them to have the protective equipment that they so desperately need.
I also believe that they should be provided with masks. Look, I know that the health care providers, as well as our fire and our police need those masks desperately. But we ultimately need to get those masks into production so that people that are in these transmission points can use them as well to protect themselves and the customers that they are dealing with.
MENENDEZ: There have been discussions within your union, I understand, about designating these workers as emergency responders. How would that designation help?
PERRONE: Well, I think that the designation would help as it relates to the testing. If they get the testing faster as well as the results of those tests can come back faster. In addition to that, a lot of these workers because they may be single mothers are having difficulty finding child care and it would give them access to some of the subsidies that the federal government put in this last bill at $3.5 billion.
And additionally, at some point in time, it would put them in the queue to receive masks once our production in the country got up to the point that we could cover our health care workers as well as our fire, our EMTs, and our police. I think that’s critical.
Unfortunately, there was a big error, a failure as it related to the testing. I think it’s also a failure as it related to our supplies that we needed in order to protect all these people that are out there working every single day trying to make sure we have food on the table and that we’re taking care of if we go to the hospital or if we have to be picked up by an ambulance service.
For updates related to COVID-19, please visit www.ufcw.org/coronavirus.
If you are a worker experiencing an issue at your workplace related to COVID-19, please report it to us online.
March 29, 2020
The work UFCW members are doing is mission-critical during this crisis, and they need the necessary protections to keep them and their customers safe. It’s time for every state to recognize our members as a vital part of the front line.
New Jersey governor Phil Murphy had a message for grocery workers on the front lines during the coronavirus outbreak:
“I know you have been working long and hard hours helping our fellow residents, and make no mistake each and every one of your is a vital part of our front line emergency reponse team. The work you’re doing to ensure that our families are provided for is mission critical to our getting through this emergency. I know this time to be hard on you personally and professionally. I know you need and deserve to be protected on the job”