United Food & Commercial Workers Local 27, which represents nearly 2,000 meatpacking and food processing workers across the state, sent a letter April 30 to Gov. John Carney calling on him to protect meatpacking and poultry workers during the coronavirus outbreak.
The letter was sent as it was reported that President Donald Trump was taking 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 UFCW Local 27 President Jason Chorpenning in a statement. “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.”
“Gov. Carney can and must take steps to protect these workers and it is imperative that he does so immediately,” continued Chorpenning. “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 Gov. Carney to implement measures to protect workers who are risking their lives to keep our food supply functioning,” closed Chorpenning.
The Centers for Disease Control and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued guidelines April 26 for meatpacking and poultry workers and employees. In the letter to 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.
The complete letter — available at bit.ly/3f7zbFW — calls on Carney to enforce CDC guidelines and to issue the following additional measures to protect workers:
— Enforce physical distancing: Plants must reconfigure the workplace to achieve physical distancing of at least 6 feet, between workers, both on the production floor and off. Barriers, such as plexiglass barriers, should be used only to reinforce the 6 feet distancing, not as a substitute for 6 feet distancing. CDC/OSHA does not make this statement, but 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.
— Provide respirators: Workers on the production floor should be provided with N-95 respirators, which will provide the level of protection needed to protect workers from inhaling virus particles. Employers must additionally do the following to maintain the integrity of the respirators: provide a new respirator at the beginning of every shift; provide fit-testing; replace respirators if damaged or contaminated; follow the current CDC guidelines for disinfecting and storing respirators, if respirators are reused; provide training on proper donning and doffing procedures, in languages workers understand; provide additional time for hand hygiene and for proper donning and doffing of respirators; provide testing for COVID-19 of all workers, including management; provide mandatory paid quarantine, should a positive case of COVID-19 be identified in the workplace; and protect workers from retaliation. The UFCW believes 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.