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UFCW urging for immediate actions to protect meatpacking workers from COVID-19

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union wrote a letter to the USDA with five steps they say need to be taken immediately to help protect workers.

LANCASTER, Pa. — The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) is calling on the USDA, asking for something to be done to better protect meatpacking workers. 

UFCW wrote a letter to the USDA detailing five steps they say need to be taken immediately to help protect workers and the food supply from the coronavirus.

According to a release from the UFCW, they say the threat the workers face is real and their safety concerned need to be addressed right away. 

America’s meatpacking workers have been on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic from the beginning, working tirelessly to make sure families have the food they need during this crisis. 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," said UFCW International President Marc Perrone.

Some workers have died, and hundreds are sick -- as they call on the USDA to implement these five immediate steps: 

  • Prioritize Essential Workers for Testing: In order to ensure the health and safety of workers and protect the food supply, essential workers, such as those in meatpacking and food processing, must be prioritized for testing. 
  • Immediate Access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Though social and physical distancing are essential to preventing the spread of COVID-19, workers still need access to PPE, such as masks and gloves. The reality is that many of our meatpacking members lack the critical personal protection equipment necessary to do their job and reduce the risk of exposure. It is essential that the USDA, in conjunction with the White House Task force, prioritize all meatpacking and food workers for PPE to ensure the health and safety of these workers and to protect our food supply. 
  • Immediate Halt On Line Speed Waivers: In the first two weeks of this month, the USDA’s Food and Safety Inspection Service approved 11 regulatory waivers for poultry plants to increase their maximum line speed. Rather than protect our food supply and workers, these waivers guarantee that workers are more crowded along a meatpacking line and more workers are put at risk of either catching or spreading the virus. It is critical that the USDA immediately cease granting any new waivers and suspend all existing waivers that allow plants to operate at faster speeds. 
  • Mandate Social Distancing Where Possible: In order to responsibly protect workers and prevent spread of the disease, companies must enforce and practice six-foot social and physical distancing to the greatest extent possible, even if this means production slows down. Where distancing is not possible, companies should use plexiglass barriers to separate and protect workers, and/or ensure that all workers are provided with masks that can safely be used under these extreme conditions. 
  • Isolate Workers Who Show Symptoms or Test Positive for COVID-19: In light of the largest outbreak to date at Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, it is critical to identify and isolate workers who have tested positive or who exhibit symptoms of COVID-19. These workers should be allowed to quarantine at home, with pay, per the recommendations set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The release from the UFCW comes as many grocery stores continue to limit what customers can purchase of a single item, including meat -- and the temporary closures of meat processing plants in Pennsylvania. 

The pandemic causing temporary closures of four meat packaging plants in the Commonwealth, earlier this month after hundreds of workers tested positive for COVID-19. 

The impacted plants include Cargill in Hazleton, JBS Beef in Souderton, CTI Foods hamburger-grinding plant in King of Prussia, and Empire Kosher Poultry Inc. in Mifflintown, Juniata County.

Closures have left people concerned, questioning what's going to happen to our food supply of pork, beef, and poultry at grocery stores. 

Especially as customers are often seeing shelves almost completely bare. 

Officials continue to urge shoppers to only purchase what they need from grocery stores, asking them to please not over buy. 

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