On May 12, UFCW International President Marc Perrone testified at a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the growing number of deaths across the food industry from COVID-19 and the threat to America’s food supply. The hearing highlighted the need to hold businesses accountable for worker safety during the ongoing pandemic.
Perrone talked about the conditions grocery workers and meatpacking workers face on the frontlines of the outbreak, shared best practices and safety standards that must be followed, and talked about how to protect America’s food supply.
“The UFCW supports measures to make workers safer and rejects calls for employer immunity, which would only exacerbate the current crisis,” Perrone said. “It is not just wrong for workers; it will endanger the very food supply we must all strive to protect. The best way to keep our essential businesses up and running and to reopen additional businesses is to ensure that workers have essential protections they need.”
“This virus does not care whether you are Republican or Democrat, and when it comes to such a national crisis, neither should we,” Perrone added. “Without standardized and uniform protections, and when no one at the federal level is holding these companies responsible, I can promise you that these workers will continue to get sick and die. Protecting these workers is not about dollars and cents, it is about life and death. It is about this simple fact – we can’t protect America’s food supply unless – and until – we protect America’s food workers.”
Since the beginning of this pandemic, the UFCW has urged employers and elected leaders to immediately implement the following safety measures to protect grocery and meatpacking workers and America’s food supply:
- Prioritize Essential Workers for Testing: To protect grocery and meatpacking workers and the food supply, these essential workers must be prioritized for testing.
- Immediate Access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): All grocery, meatpacking and food processing workers must have priority access to the critical PPE necessary to do their job and reduce the risk of exposure.
- Immediate Halt On Line Speed Waivers: The USDA’s recent approval of 11 regulatory waivers for poultry plants to increase line speeds shows a reckless disregard for worker safety during this pandemic. The USDA must immediately cease granting any new waivers and suspend all existing waivers that allow plants to operate at faster speeds.
- Mandate Social Distancing Where Possible: Companies must enforce and practice six-foot social and physical distancing to the greatest extent possible, even if it slows production. When not possible, companies should use plexiglass barriers and/or ensure all workers have masks that can safely be used.
- Isolate Workers Who Show Symptoms or Test Positive for COVID-19: It is critical to identify and isolate workers who test positive or exhibit COVID-19 symptoms. These workers must be allowed to quarantine at home with pay per CDC recommendations.
More information about the hearing and Perrone’s testimony can be found here.