America’s Largest Meatpacking Union Testifies to Congress, Highlights COVID Safety Failures at Seaboard Foods, One of Top Midwest Companies
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), the union for over 250,000 meatpacking and food processing workers across North America, testified to Congress on the COVID-19 safety risks meatpacking workers have faced and highlighted a new report from Chairman James Clyburn during today’s hearing of the Congressional Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis showing that meatpacking COVID cases are three times higher than previously estimated and non-union plants had some of the biggest safety failures.
Today’s report reveals at least 59,000 meatpacking worker COVID infections, almost triple the 22,700 infections previously estimated by the Food and Environment Reporting Network (FERN). At least 269 meatpacking worker COVID deaths have now been confirmed between March 2020 and February 1, 2021—over three times higher than previous estimates. The report also highlights safety failures in non-union meatpacking plants where companies were less transparent and workers had fewer protections.
UFCW International President Marc Perrone:
“Today’s report exposes the truth that the deadly impact of the pandemic on America’s meatpacking workers was far worse than previously reported. As the largest union for frontline food workers, UFCW called out the Trump Administration for its failure to hold the industry accountable and we successfully pushed many companies to make the urgent reforms needed to strengthen worker protections. With federal regulators asleep at the switch when the pandemic began and many non-union plants refusing to disclose the full number of COVID worker infections, far too many Americans on the frontlines were defenseless against the virus. This report from Chairman Clyburn is shining a light on these safety failures that cannot be ignored. Today we are calling on Congress and the USDA for immediate action to strengthen protections for meatpacking workers to keep them safe on the job and ensure this never happens again.”
In Congressional testimony today, UFCW highlighted COVID safety failures at Seaboard Foods in Oklahoma where frontline workers are represented by UFCW Local 2. Click here for the full text of today’s testimony to Congress by UFCW.
UFCW Local 2 President Martín Rosas Excerpts from Congressional Testimony:
“At Seaboard Foods in Guymon Oklahoma, for example, in a plant of 2,200, over 1,000 workers have had COVID-19 and at least 7 have reportedly died. I can tell you from my conversations with the workers, they are suffering long term consequences of the disease. This is an issue of life and death and protecting those who are going to work every day to put food on our table. In the beginning not enough was being done to protect these essential workers. The harsh reality is that many of the companies were slow to act in the early days of the outbreak, and whatever progress that was achieved was due to the union demanding action.
“One of my members who died was Alejandro. He was 33 years old and worked at Seaboard. He was told to come back to work or lose his health insurance. He had diabetes so he could not be without health insurance. The company made him believe he would lose his insurance if he didn’t come back to work. He came back, contracted COVID-19 and died within two weeks of returning to work. Much more must be done to protect these workers and if we are to protect America’s food supply.”
UFCW has been the leading voice for America’s meatpacking workers during COVID-19 and during today’s Congressional testimony, the union called for the following actions:
- Instruct OSHA to issue clear, science-based, emergency, and then permanent, enforceable regulations to protect workers from airborne disease such as COVID-19, including updated ventilation standards.
- Provide OSHA necessary funding such that they can train their staff and do real education and onsite investigation by trained OSHA personnel and enforcement in the meatpacking industry, as well as work with unions, worker health and safety committees/councils, and other employee advocates to make safe workplaces a reality.
- Take steps to require the meatpacking industry to provide wages commensurate with the essential nature of these workers’ jobs, be it through requirements in contracts or incentives.
- Require sick days and necessary paid leave to ALL workers – not just those whose employers employ less than 500 workers. All workers benefit when those who are sick stay home and do not circulate viruses in the workplace.
- Ensure that employers who benefit from federal dollars adhere to the strictest possible workplace safety standards and provide high-road quality jobs. Take steps to modify language in the Federal Acquisition Regulations, the OMB standards, and USDA’s RFP and contract language to hold employers to such standards.
- Include meatpacking workers and their families when considering infrastructure and social spending initiates, including childcare and job training.
- A public review of the true numbers of the COVID-19 infections and deaths in the meatpacking industry during the pandemic.
- A public accounting of the vaccination rates in the meatpacking plants.
UFCW is the largest private sector union in Kentucky, represents over 25,000 Kentucky workers statewide, and is part of UFCW International which represents 1.3 million professionals and their families in healthcare, grocery stores, meatpacking, food processing, retail shops and other industries that serve communities in all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico. Learn more about the UFCW at ufcw.org.