The UFCW letter to called on Secretary Sonny Perdue to take five immediate steps to protect meatpacking workers from the coronavirus. These include prioritising essential workers for testing; providing immediate access to personal protective equipment (PPE); a halt to line speed waivers to prevent overcrowding on production lines; mandated social distancing and isolation of workers that show symptoms or test positive for coronavirus.
UFCW international president Marc Perrone said: “Every day, these workers are not only putting their lives on the line to protect our nation’s food supply, they continue to work in some of the most difficult conditions imaginable.
“The threat these workers face during this outbreak is real and their safety concerns must be addressed immediately. At least six of our own members in meatpacking facilities have tragically passed away and hundreds more have been impacted by this ongoing pandemic. All across the country, we are witnessing meatpacking facilities having to close down, endangering our food supply at the worst possible moment.
“For the sake of these workers and our nation, it is clear that more must be done now. We are urgently calling on Secretary Perdue to adopt a series of safety actions and enact immediate guidelines to protect these essential workers which, in turn, will protect our communities and this nation’s food supply.”
This comes as processor JBS USA announced the indefinite closure of its Worthington pork production facility in Minnesota. It employs more than 2,000 staff and processes 20,000 hogs per day. The company said it will continue to pay its team members during the plant closure.
“We don’t make this decision lightly,” said president of JBS USA Pork Bob Krebs. “We recognize JBS Worthington is critical to local hog producers, the US food supply and the many businesses that support the facility each and every day.
“As we all learn more about coronavirus, it is clear that the disease is far more widespread across the US and in our county than official estimates indicate based on limited testing,” Krebs added. “We have taken aggressive actions to keep coronavirus out of our plant and keep this critical infrastructure facility operational. It is our hope that [Minnesota] Governor Walz’s effort to implement more widespread community testing will help all of us better understand the measures we must all take to stop its potential spread. We must work together to defeat this common enemy.”
JBS USA has been largely praised by the UFCW for its work in protecting staff including providing PPE, offering pay increases to employees and introducing social distancing measures.