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UFCW Statement on Biden USDA Secretary Confirmation

February 23, 2021 Updated: February 24, 2021

America’s Largest Food & Retail Union Calls on Vilsack to Lead USDA with Action to Expedite Vaccine Access for Essential Workers in Grocery, Meatpacking, Food Processing, and Agriculture as COVID Continues to Threaten U.S. Food Supply

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
February 23, 2021

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), which represents 1.3 million frontline workers in grocery, meatpacking and food processing, applauded the vote by the U.S. Senate to confirm Tom Vilsack as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary and highlighted the urgent need for action from the agency to expedite vaccine access for essential workers in grocery, meatpacking, food processing, and agriculture as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten the country’s food supply.

UFCW International President Marc Perrone released the following statement:

“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, America’s essential food workers still face the daily threat from the virus on the frontlines. Outbreaks at grocery stores and meatpacking plants have already killed hundreds of workers and infected thousands more. During the Trump presidency, the USDA failed to prevent these deadly tragedies, threatened the livelihoods of our country’s farmers with reckless trade wars, and refused to hold the industry accountable to the American people. The voices of essential workers must be heard by USDA to ensure these costly failures never happen again.

“As the union for America’s frontline food workers, UFCW applauds the confirmation of Tom Vilsack, who we are confident will end the failures of the past, and provide an experienced and steady hand that is essential at the USDA during this critical moment. Now more than ever, the USDA must abandon the dangerous policies of past administrations – like dangerous increases to meatpacking line speeds that endanger workers and our food supply – and embrace a new direction that protects our food supply and America’s food workers. 

“Under the leadership of Secretary Vilsack, we are hopeful that governors and industry leaders will work together with unions to expedite vaccine access for essential workers in grocery, meatpacking, food processing, and agriculture still at risk on the frontlines of this pandemic. Moreover, we believe that Secretary Vilsack will help strengthen anti-hunger programs like SNAP that are critical to helping vulnerable families, while also ensuring taxpayer dollars only support responsible food industry businesses that provide safe workplaces and the good pay these essential workers have earned for putting their lives on the line during this pandemic. 

“Our country’s frontline workers and the millions of Americans they serve deserve nothing less, and we believe Secretary Vilsack will help enact these critical national priorities.

BACKGROUND

UFCW has been a leading national voice for frontline workers and recently highlighted the dangerous vaccine delays in more than 35 states where grocery, meatpacking and food processing workers still do not have access. 

NEW COVID NUMBERS: UFCW numbers confirmed today there have already been at least 397 frontline worker deaths and at least 78,900 frontline workers infected or exposed. In this group of workers impacted, UFCW reports:

  • 138 grocery worker deaths and at least 30,740 grocery workers infected or exposed
  • 132 meatpacking worker deaths and 22,000 meatpacking workers infected or exposed
  • 44 food processing worker deaths and 8,400 food processing workers infected or exposed

In recent years, the USDA repeatedly attempted to remove line speed limits in pork and poultry plants, increasing the risk to both workers and food safety. Even as the COVID-19 pandemic has threatened the country’s food supply chain, the USDA continued to grant waivers that allow plants to run faster and endanger more workers.  

In addition to calling on Congress for action, UFCW is continuing to pursue litigation to maintain line speed limits in pork plants nationwide and prevent companies from further jeopardizing the health and safety of the nation’s food supply chain with dangerous increases to production speeds.

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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