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Minnesota Retail Workers Call for COVID Hazard Pay at State Hearing

July 28, 2021 Updated: July 29, 2021

BROOKLYN CENTER, MN – Today, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 663, the union for over 13,200 Minnesota essential workers in food, retail and healthcare, testified at the first state public hearing on the $250 million Frontline Worker Pay Working Group, which was created by Governor Tim Walz and Minnesota state legislators earlier this month as part of the state’s COVID-19 pandemic response and assistance for essential workers. Click here for video of today’s hearing.

UFCW Local 663 and UFCW Local 9, the union for 3,100 Minnesota essential workers in the Austin area have been working together to advocate for frontline worker pay at the state capital to include food, retail and healthcare workers as well as meatpacking workers safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The following are excerpts of remarks by Minnesota meatpacking worker member Antonio Jimenez, a UFCW Local 663 member at the JBS pork processing plant in Worthington:

“In the spring of 2020, a COVID outbreak tore through my plant and I was one of the workers who got sick. I was out sick for weeks. I worried the whole time about passing the infection on to my children, family, and friends. My union provided me with information and resources so I could go on short-term disability. Most people I know have at least a couple friends who got COVID. In my plant, more than 50 percent of the workers got COVID. 

“While things have improved, COVID is still here in our community, and it’s still here for me, personally. I still struggle with the after-effects – lingering symptoms and fatigue. I support frontline worker pay for meatpacking workers because we have worked to keep this state fed and exposed ourselves and our families to extreme risk in doing so.”

Minnesota grocery worker Paul Swanson, a UFCW Local 663 member at Lunds & Byerlys grocery store in Wayzata, also testified, saying:

“The initial impact of COVID-19 for myself and my co-workers was the rush of customers during the hoarding phase. We went from doing regular business to three times the business overnight.

“A big impact was COVID protocols at work–if anyone had a covid exposure, you had to quarantine for 14 days without pay. This meant my coworkers who are part timers had no vacation and lost income. Those of us with vacation would have to choose to use vacation to be able to get a paycheck. COVID definitely created financial hardships for grocery store workers. Please include grocery workers as an eligible industry for frontline worker pay.”

UFCW Local 663 President Matt Utecht released the following statement:

“Minnesota’s grocery, meatpacking and healthcare workers did not sign-up to risk their lives, but they have been coming to work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and serving their communities. Our members, and all frontline workers deserve to be compensated for the extreme risk that they and their families face every day. Minnesota should use some of the federal COVID-19 funds to provide premium pay for essential frontline workers this year.”

BACKGROUND:

  • In Minnesota, UFCW Local 663 represents more than 13,200 workers in retail grocery, meatpacking and food processing, healthcare, and other industries and UFCW Local 9 represents more than 3,100 workers in meatpacking and food processing, food manufacturing, and warehouse workers.
  • Nationally, frontline workers with UFCW have been working and dying during this pandemic. Since March 2020, 482 UFCW frontline workers have died and 79,900 frontline UFCW workers have been infected or exposed to COVID-19. Given the lack of transparency from  grocery and meat packing and processing companies across these industries, experts estimate that COVID-19 worker infections and deaths are even higher.
  • In Minnesota, we saw the devastating effects of COVID-19 in the meatpacking and processing plants and communities from Worthington and Austin where our Locals represent workers to St. Cloud and other parts of greater Minnesota for frontline employees in non-union workplaces. Workers were infected at work and brought it home to their families – some are still dealing with the lingering effects of COVID-19.

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UFCW Local 663 represents more than 13,200 hard-working retail, meatpacking and processing, food preparation and manufacturing, healthcare, and other workers in Minnesota and Iowa. It is the largest UFCW Local in the Midwest. We strive to improve the lives of our members and all working families by fighting for economic, political, and social justice in our workplaces and communities. UFCW Local 663 is part of the 1.3 million-member United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.