Last week, UFCW JBS beef and pork workers traveled to Washington, D.C. for a series of lobby days to advocate for workers who are facing hardships in the meatpacking industry. Members from UFCW Locals 7R, 227, 293, 435, 540, 951, 1149, 1161, 1473, and 1776 visited with White House staff, numerous members of Congress, the DOL, and also the USDA.
During their sessions with congressmen and department officials, workers shared their stories of how they are negatively impacted by cattle shortages due to the severe drought, and hog shortages because of the PED virus.
“We’re used to working 50-60 hours a week. Now because of the drought we’re seeing a lot less work because there just aren’t enough cattle to slaughter,” said Tim Gavaldon, a JBS beef plant worker from Greeley, Colo., and member of UFCW Local 7R. “It’s really taking a toll on workers and our communities are hurting financially.”
Workers lobbied for members of Congress to support a new drought relief bill. The California Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2014 (S. 2016) was introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein and includes a section covering emergency supplemental agriculture disaster appropriations for agricultural and migrant farm workers. The bill would provide funds for food, rental assistance, and utilities. UFCW members advocated for similar legislation to be introduced so it includes not just farm workers, but meatpackers and food processors as well.
Workers also expressed their concern about a new healthcare plan that JBS is proposing. At a time when workers are already struggling because of reduced hours, JBS is proposing a substandard health plan that will double, or even triple the health costs for workers. If the new plan goes into effect, the costs are so high that a family could become bankrupt if they decide to have a baby or if there is a medical emergency.
“We came to Washington, D.C., to stand together and tell people on Capitol Hill that the new plan is unacceptable. This new health plan could mean financial ruin for workers and their families. We work hard to help make JBS a profitable company and now they are trying to push this on us for extra profits,” said Ramon Sanchez, a JBS beef plant worker form Cactus, Texas and member of UFCW Local 540.
UFCW JBS workers from across the country will continue to stand together and support each other until they are back to operating at full time and also fight for a fair health plan that protects workers.