Over 5,000 US meatpackers exposed to coronavirus, union says

More than 5,000 US meat and food-processing workers have been infected with or exposed to the coronavirus, while another 13 have died, their union said Thursday.

The nation’s meat supply could be jeopardized by the pandemic unless the federal government takes measures to improve safety at crowded facilities, where it can be impossible for workers to socially distance, according to United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

“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,” said Anthony Perrone, the International President of the United Food & Commercial Workers.

“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.”

The 5,000 figure includes meatpackers who have tested positive, or are self-quarantining, awaiting test results, have been hospitalized or show symptoms, according to the union, which represents about 80 percent of US beef and pork production and 40 percent of poultry production.

Since the virus has begun spreading across the country, 13 plants have closed, resulting in a 25 percent reduction in pork slaughter capacity and a 10 percent reduction in beef slaughter capacity, the union said.

Perrone penned a letter Thursday to Vice President Mike Pence, the head of the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force, making five asks to make plants safer:

  • Prioritize essential workers for testing;
  • Guaranteed Personal Protective Equipment;
  • Halt on approvals to speed production lines, which the union says endangers workers;
  • Mandated six-foot social distancing;
  • Allow workers to self-quarantine with pay when they show symptoms or test positive for the virus.

“For the UFCW, this is about the life and death of essential workers, and the need to protect them and America’s food supply,” Perrone wrote in the letter.

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