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As COVID-19 Cases Rise, UFCW Calls on Congress to Hold Employers Accountable for Safety of Frontline Workers

May 12, 2020 Updated: December 21, 2020

President Perrone Testifies At Congress

Marc Perrone, Head of Largest U.S. Food Retail and Meatpacking Union, Testifies at Senate Hearing on Growing Threat To Workers and Food Supply, Urges Congress to Put Worker Safety First

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union, which represents 1.3 million workers in food and retail, testifed in a U.S. Senate hearing on the growing number of deaths across the food industry from COVID-19 and the threat to America’s food supply. The U.S. Senate hearing highlighted the push by some in Congress to exempt businesses from liability the safety of their workers, even as the danger from COVID-19 increases. Click here for full video of UFCW opening remarks.

The following are excerpts remarks by UFCW International President Marc Perrone as prepared for delivery to the U.S. Senate hearing on employer COVID-19 liability:

“UFCW supports measures to make workers safer and rejects calls for employer immunity, which would only exacerbate the current crisis. It is not just wrong for workers; it will endanger the very food supply we must all strive to protect. The best way to keep our essential businesses up and running, and to reopen additional businesses, is to ensure that workers have essential protections they need.

“This virus does not care whether you are Republican or Democrat, and when it comes to such a national crisis, neither should we. Without standardized and uniform protections, and when no one at the federal level is holding these companies responsible, I can promise you that these workers will continue to get sick and die.”

“Protecting these workers is not about dollars and cents, it is about life and death. It is about this simple fact – we can’t protect America’s food supply unless – and until – we protect America’s food workers.”

Background:

During the testimony, President Marc Perrone discussed the conditions grocery workers and meatpacking workers face on the frontlines of the outbreak, shared best practices and safety standards that must be followed, and spoke about how to protect America’s food supply. Since the beginning of this pandemic UFCW has been proactive in advocating for the best and necessary safety standards to protect America’s food supply, grocery workers and meatpacking workers. The below is a summary of measures UFCW has urged employers and elected leaders to immediately implement:

  • Prioritize Essential Workers for Testing: To protect grocery and meatpacking workers and the food supply, these essential workers must be prioritized for testing.
  • Immediate Access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): All grocery, meatpacking and food processing workers must have priority access to the critical personal protection equipment necessary to do their job and reduce the risk of exposure. 
  • Immediate Halt On Line Speed Waivers: USDA’s recent approval of 11 regulatory waivers for poultry plants to increase line speeds shows a reckless disregard for worker safety during this pandemic. The USDA must immediately cease granting any new waivers and suspend all existing waivers that allow plants to operate at faster speeds.
  • Mandate Social Distancing Where Possible: Companies must enforce and practice six-foot social and physical distancing to the greatest extent possible, even if it slows production. When not possible, companies should use plexiglass barriers and/or ensure all workers have masks that can safely be used. 
  • Isolate Workers Who Show Symptoms or Test Positive for COVID-19: It is critical to identify and isolate workers who test positive or exhibit COVID-19 symptoms. These workers must be allowed to quarantine at home, with pay, per CDC recommendations. 

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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 healthcare, grocery stores, meatpacking, food processing, retail shops and other industries. Our members serve our communities in all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico. Learn more about the UFCW at ufcw.org