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UFCW: Workers Memorial Day Must Highlights Death Toll of Pandemic, Urgent Need to Strengthen Vaccine Access for Millions of Essential Workers Still on COVID Frontlines

April 28, 2021

Disposable surgical mask on the floor of a supermarket

Union Confirms 456 Essential Worker COVID Deaths in Past Year and 91,000 Workers Infected or Exposed, Calls on State and Industry Leaders for Action to Fix Barriers to Vaccine Access for Essential Workers

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), which represents 1.3 million essential workers in grocery, meatpacking, and other frontline industries, honored Workers Memorial Day by recognizing essential workers who lost their lives on the frontlines in the past year. UFCW recently confirmed that among the union’s members, there have been at least 456 frontline worker deaths from COVID-19 and at least 91,400 frontline workers infected or exposed to the virus. As the health threat from the pandemic continues, UFCW is calling for action to strengthen vaccine access for the millions of essential workers still at risk on the frontlines.

UFCW International President Marc Perrone released the following statement: 

“As millions of America’s essential workers continue to bravely put their own health at risk on the frontlines of the pandemic, observing Workers Memorial Day this week is an opportunity to honor the sacrifices and remember the men and women in these critical jobs who lost their lives to COVID-19 this past year.

“Now, more than one year into this deadly pandemic, with countless new worker infections continuing each week, we have a responsibility to do more to stop this tragic loss of life. The brutal truth is that our nation’s largest food companies and our elected leaders must do much more to protect America’s essential workers by hosting more worksite vaccine clinics, providing paid leave to get the vaccine, and working with health officials to address other barriers to vaccine access.

“Keeping our country’s food supply secure during the pandemic would not have been possible without the courage of essential workers on the frontlines in grocery stores and meatpacking plants. The least we can do for them and their families now is make sure they are vaccinated and vaccinated quickly – because their lives literally depend on it.”

BACKGROUND:

UFCW has been a leading national voice for essential workers in grocery stores and meatpacking plants who still face the daily threat of COVID-19 exposure on the frontlines while too many states fail to guarantee vaccine access for these workers.

COVID NUMBERS: UFCW recently confirmed that COVID-19 continues to threaten essential food workers nationwide. Since March 1, UFCW reports a nearly 30 percent increase in grocery worker deaths and a 24 percent increase in grocery workers infected or exposed following supermarket outbreaks at Whole FoodsCostcoTrader Joe’s and other chains across the country. Additionally, meatpacking outbreaks continue to threaten workers in OklahomaNorth Carolina, and other states. According to new UFCW estimates, among the union’s members nationwide, there have already been at least:

  • 456 frontline worker deaths and at least 91,400 frontline workers infected or exposed
  • 178 grocery worker deaths and at least 39,900 grocery workers infected or exposed 
  • 132 meatpacking worker deaths and 22,200 meatpacking workers infected or exposed
  • 60 food processing worker deaths and 11,700 food processing workers infected or exposed

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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