UFCW union calls for better safety measures for meatpacking workers

This Wednesday, April 17, 2013 photo shows the Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Columbus...
This Wednesday, April 17, 2013 photo shows the Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa. Tyson and other meatpacking companies have increasingly recruited non-Latino workers in recent years, including Burmese, Sudanese and others, said Mark Grey, director of the Iowa Center for Immigrant Leadership and Integration at University of Northern Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)(NBC15)
Published: May. 28, 2020 at 2:30 PM CDT
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One of the country's largest unions is calling for workers in the meatpacking and food processing industries to be better protected against COVID-19.

The United Food and Commercial Workers union, (UFCW), which represents about 250,000 workers in the meatpacking and food processing industries, says companies as well as federal, state and local governments need to take immediate action to protect people working in potentially unsafe environments.

UFCW is banding together with a coalition of groups in their call to action, including the Dakota Rural Action (DRA), Northern Plains Resource Council, Western Colorado Alliance, and the Western Organization of Resource Councils.

The coalition is calling meatpacking companies to take the following steps:

  • Increased worker testing at meatpacking plants
  • Priority access to PPE for all meatpacking workers
  • Halting line speed waivers
  • Mandating social distancing inside meatpacking plants
  • Isolating workers with symptoms or who test positive for COVID-19

Such steps are necessary because, according to the coalitions' count, at least 44 meatpacking workers have died due to COVID-19 and over 3,000 workers have tested positive.

Since March, some 30 meatpacking plants have closed, impacting over 45,000 workers, according to the coalition. That has led to a 40 percent reduction in pork slaughter capacity as well as a 25 percent reduction in beef slaughter capacity, the coalition says.

“The best way to protect our food supply is to protect the people who work within it,” UFCW International President Marc Perrone said in a release.

“From frontline food processing workers to farmers and ranchers, we are all critical to keeping American families fed during this crisis. Enacting strong worker safety standards inside meatpacking plants will help people outside of them as well and ensure every link in our food supply chain is secure," Perrone says.