America’s Largest Food & Retail Union Calls for Biden Administration USDA to Enact Strong Pro-Worker Agenda as COVID-19 Continues to Threaten Millions of American Workers in Meatpacking and Food Processing
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), which represents over 250,000 frontline workers in meatpacking and food processing plants, welcomed President-elect Joe Biden’s selection of Tom Vilsack to serve as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary and highlighted the urgent need for action from the agency as the rise in COVID-19 cases continues to threaten frontline food workers nationwide.
UFCW International President Marc Perrone released the following statement:
“As COVID-19 cases surge across the country, America’s meatpacking and food processing workers continue to face the daily threat from the virus on the frontlines of this pandemic. Meatpacking and food processing plant outbreaks have already killed hundreds of workers and infected thousands more. Under the Trump Administration, the USDA has 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.
“As the union for America’s frontline food workers, UFCW welcomes the experience and steady hand Tom Vilsack will bring to the USDA. Our country needs real change, and the USDA must abandon the outdated policies of past administrations – like dangerous increases to meatpacking line speeds that endanger workers and our food supply.
“Americans need the USDA to meet this moment with bold action that invests in workers across the food supply chain from meatpacking plants to grocery stores. We must strengthen anti-hunger programs like SNAP critical to helping so many families in need right now, and the federal government’s buying power must only support responsible employers that provide safe workplaces and the good pay these essential workers have earned during this pandemic. Our country’s frontline workers and the millions of Americans they serve deserve nothing less.”
UFCW has been a leading national voice for frontline workers and recently called on the CDC to prioritize essential workers for COVID-19 vaccine access as the pandemic worsens. New UFCW numbers confirm there have already been at least 357 frontline worker deaths and at least 62,000 frontline workers infected or exposed.
In this group of workers impacted, UFCW reports at least 130 meatpacking worker deaths and 20,600 meatpacking workers infected or exposed. Additionally, UFCW confirmed at least 42 food processing worker deaths and 6,700 food processing workers infected or exposed.
The USDA has 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 threatens the country’s food supply chain, the USDA has continued to grant waivers that allow plants to run faster and endanger more workers.
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 as the pandemic continues to put these workers at risk.
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.