25% of Pork Producers Close after Outbreak
UFCW is warning of a food shortage after major meat producers failed to protect workers from COVID-19
As COVID-19 continues to spread, meatpacking plants have been hit especially hard. 25% of the pork industry has been shut down and 10% of the beef industry has closed. This is causing some to be concerned about the ability of consumers to get beef and pork products in the supermarket in the coming weeks.
According to the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), 10 meatpacking workers and 3 food processing workers have died. Also, at least 5,000 meatpacking workers and 1,500 food processing workers have been directly impacted by the virus, meaning they have either tested positive or have been forced to quarantine. Over the past two months, 13 plants have closed, and 24,500 workers have been put out of work.
In a lawsuit that was filed against Smithfield Farms, the Rural Community Workers Alliance and a plant worker identified as Jane Doe allege that the facility ignored the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) guidance to safeguard workers and continues to operate the Milan plant in a "manner that contributes to the spread of the disease."
While the companies claim to have stayed open to prevent a food shortage, the UFCW says that the companies could have done more to protect their employees and stop the outbreaks that have caused prolonged closures, which are now causing a shortage. They say a lack of PPE and increased line speeds contributed to the spread since the increased speeds made it almost impossible to socially distance.
In a letter to Vice President Mike Pence, the union is asking for national standards to keep meatpackers and food processors safe. They include (1) increased worker testing, (2) priority access to PPE, (3) halting line speed waivers, (4) mandating social distancing, and (5) isolating workers with symptoms or testing positive for COVID-19.
According to an investigation done by the Washington Post, three of the nation’s biggest food companies, Tyson Foods, JBS USA, and Smithfield Foods, told their employees to continue working even though the employees reported to management that they were sick. Even after the CDC updated guidelines in March on social distancing and PPE use, the companies failed to take action to protect their workforce.
Thanks to this negligence, there are now thousands of sick workers, some who are dying or have died, and large portions of their businesses are closed. Plus the food shortage they hoped to prevent was just delayed. With more industries opening over the next few weeks and months, it might be a good idea to take some lessons from what has gone wrong at companies like Tyson Foods, JBS USA, and Smithfield Foods. Hopefully this will mean more companies invest in their workforces, buy the needed PPE, and protect their workers from COVID-19.