The US United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) is urging the country’s government to provide more protective equipment for food plant employees, claiming up to 6,500 workers have been infected with or are exposed to the virus.
America’s largest meatpacking union has written to Vice President Mike Pence, calling for the White House Coronavirus Task Force to prioritise safety actions in the industry.
Major meat processors including Tyson Foods, Hormel Foods and Smithfield Foods have been forced to shut more plants in recent days as the virus spreads among their workforce. The UFCW identified 13 food plants have closed at some point in the past two months.
In the letter to VP Pence, the UFCW International urgently called for increased worker testing, priority access to PPE, halting line speed waivers, mandating social distancing and isolating workers with symptoms or testing positive for Covid-19.
It said that based on UFCW internal estimates, ten meatpacking workers and three food processing workers have died and that at least 5,000 meatpacking workers and 1,500 food processing workers have been directly impacted by the virus.
It suggested these closures have resulted in more than 24,500 workers impacted and a 25% reduction in pork slaughter capacity and a 10% reduction in beef slaughter capacity.
Marc Perrone, the union’s international president, said:”America’s food processing and meatpacking workers are in extreme danger, and our nation’s food supply faces a direct threat from the coronavirus outbreak.
“If workers in these plants are as essential as our elected leaders say, then it’s about time that our elected leaders provide them with the essential protections they need. Make no mistake, without national safety standards to protect these workers from the coronavirus, more lives will be lost, more workers will be exposed, and our food supply will face jeopardy.”