UFCW calls on Governor Carney to help protect food workers

SELBYVILLE – United Food & Commercial Workers Local 27, which represents nearly 2,000 meatpacking and food processing workers across Delaware, sent a letter to Gov. John Carney Thursday calling on him to protect meatpacking and poultry workers during the coronavirus outbreak.

The letter was sent in the wake of President Donald Trump’s executive action to mandate that meatpacking and poultry plants remain open. 

“Our members in meatpacking and poultry plants are on the frontlines of a global pandemic that threatens our nation’s food supply,” said Jason Chorpenning, UFCW Local 27 president. “These workers are putting their lives on the line every day to keep our country fed during this deadly outbreak and they must be protected. President Trump’s executive order now mandates that they continue to do so, without any language that ensures their safety.

“Here’s the bottom line: the best way to protect America’s food supply and to keep these plants open is to protect workers.”

From a different perspective, the Delmarva Poultry Industry (DPI) issued a statement Wednesday, appreciating the President’s order as an aid to poultry operations during the pandemic.

“This executive order will give needed assistance to Delmarva’s chicken processing companies by sending food supply chain resources to plants, giving them even more ways to keep workers safe and protected from coronavirus. By resolving inconsistencies among states in enforcing CDC guidelines, the order is a good first step towards a uniform standard for worker safety during this crisis in meat and chicken processing.

The Centers for Disease Control and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued guidelines on April 26 for meatpacking and poultry workers and employees. In the letter to Gov. Carney, UFCW Local 27 calls the guidelines a step in the right direction but asks governors to both enforce those guidelines and issue additional protective measures.

Those measures include enforcing physical distancing of at least 6 feet between workers, both on the production floor and off.  Barriers, such as plexiglass walls, should be used only to reinforce the 6 feet distancing, not as a substitute for 6 feet distancing. It noted this type of distancing may require the speed of the line to be reduced, in order to achieve a reduction or minimization in the spread of the virus.

UFCW Local 27 also requested that all workers on the production floor be provided with N-95 respirators which will provide the level of protection needed to protect workers from inhaling virus particles. It also seeks a new respirator provided at the beginning of every shift, fit testing, replacing respirators if damaged or contaminated, follow CDC guidelines for disinfecting and storing respirators if they are reused, providing training for the devices and additional time for hand hygiene and proper donning and doffing of respirators.

The letter is also asking for testing of all workers, including management, who are currently working in the plant, for COVID-19. Ideally, rapid testing of workers, as they enter the workplace, would ensure that workers carrying the virus are not entering the workplace.

UFCW Local 27 is seeking mandatory paid quarantine should a positive case of COVID-19 be identified in the workplace, those in close contact with the infected individual should be identified as well and paid to stay home for the full two weeks.  This would ensure more workers are not infected, or exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, in order to mitigate the spread.

Finally, the union is calling to protect workers from retaliation, believing that strong, anti-retaliation protections must be in place in order to ensure that workers who feel ill, or who are suffering from COVID-19, can remain at home, in quarantine for the full period of time recommended by the CDC, until it is safe to return to work. Workers must be encouraged to report any symptoms of illness, or of COVID-19, while at work, as well as any other safety and health hazards, and not suffer any negative consequences for doing so. 

“Governor Carney can and must take steps to protect these workers and it is imperative that he does so immediately,” said Mr. Chorpenning, in the release accompanying the letter. “Strong, enforceable safety standards must be implemented in every poultry and meatpacking plant to protect workers and our food supply. All workers must have access to testing and personal protective equipment, and the state must ensure that social distancing is enforced and paid sick leave is provided to all workers so that no one comes to work sick.

“We look forward to working together with Governor Carney to implement measures to protect workers who are risking their lives to keep our food supply functioning.”

DPI remained hopeful that the President’s order to keep meatpacking and poultry plants open will help its workers get through the crisis.

“Last week, Delmarva’s governors jointly conveyed to the President an urgent need for additional federal support for our chicken community, asking the White House to identify federal resources that could help chicken companies, employees, farmers and chicken growers and to provide necessary equipment, personnel, supplies and testing materials to ensure processing plants can remain open,” DPI said, in its letter. “They also asked for national, uniform guidance from the CDC and OSHA for the meatpacking and poultry processing companies. This executive order accomplishes those goals and aids us in keeping the safe and stable chicken supply chain our country must have.

“This crisis is sorely testing Delmarva’s chicken community – our more than 20,000 chicken company employees, the more than 1,300 farmers who raise chickens here, and the scores of allied businesses we rely on. All of them have shown astounding reserves of patience, determination and strength. Together, and with a helping hand from the states and the federal government, we will continue to feed the country and the world.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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