The national food workers union that represents a quarter of a million meat packers and food processors has renewed its call for more worker protections, this time in a letter to America’s governors.
The April 28 letter form the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents almost 4,000 Nebraskans, addressed to the chair and vice chair of the National Governor’s Association say good steps have been taken to protect workers, but mandatory regulations for social distancing, personal protective equipment and testing have still not been instituted.
The letter, which Gov. Pete Ricketts received as well, the union said in a press release, was sent at the same time President Donald Trump signed an executive order to keep plants open. In the order, Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to deem the facilities essential businesses and provide them more personal protective and health guidance.
Ricketts also repeatedly vowed to keep meat plants running despite calls for their closure. A Tyson plant in Dakota City, Nebraska announced today it would close from May 1 to May 4. A pork processing plant in Crete, Nebraska announced it would close earlier this week and then walked back that decision the next day.
Hall County became the area with the second-highest amount of cases per capita in the nation due to outbreaks at the JBS plant near Grand Island. It’s curve has started flattening, but it’s still among the top hot spots for cases and deaths.
Among the new protections unions want instituted are:
- More social distancing;
- Mandatory paid quarantine and;
- Worker protection against retaliation.
Many plants have installed plexiglass barriers between workers on production floors, however, the union said that’s not a substitute for six-feet of social distancing. In a virtual press conference last week several workers said that having six feet of distance between workers was an impossibility in facilities current setup.
“If the company wants to make space between the workers it’s probably going to take them years,” said Margarita Heredia, who works at a JBS plant in Marshalltown, Iowa.
The union says this distance may require a reduction in line speeds.
The letter also calls for workers to be provided clean N95 respirators at the beginning of every shift as well as mandatory testing for all employees. The letter also addresses worker protection and paid quarantine time. Workers across the nation have faced retaliation for trying to leave work or speak out about conditions as their facilities became the nation’s hot spots.