April 2021, Volume 27, Number 2
Meat and Migrants
The United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents 80 percent of US beef and pork processing workers, said that UFCW polls of its meatpacking members show that two-thirds want to be vaccinated. The UFCW says that 22,000 meatpacking workers have been infected or exposed to Covid, and 132 have died.
Major meatpacking companies including JBS, Cargill, Tyson Foods and Smithfield Foods said that they would offer facilities in their plants for mass vaccinations. The North American Meat Institute asked all states to prioritize meatpacking workers for vaccines.
Poultry. USDA?s Food Safety and Inspection Service in January 2021 withdrew a proposal to allow poultry processors to increase line speeds above 175 birds a minute. Worker advocates praised withdrawal of the proposal, while processors hoped it would be reinstated, pointing to declining worker injuries despite higher line speeds.
A nitrogen leak left six workers dead at a Prime-Pak poultry plant in Gainesville, Georgia, a city of 43,000 that is 55 miles northeast of Atlanta with 40 percent Hispanic residents. By some estimates, over 10 percent of local workers are unauthorized.
Foster Farms, based in Livingston, California, continues to struggle with Covid in facilities that employ 2,500 workers, making Foster the largest private employer in Merced county. Some 400 Foster workers contracted Covid in August 2020 and nine died, prompting a six-day shutdown and deep cleaning.
The UFW, which represented 2,000 Foster employees until it was decertified in February 2021, sued Foster in December 2020 after a second wave of Covid swept through the plants. The suit seeks a court order to require Foster to keep workers at least six feet apart on processing lines and to provide workers with PPE. A state court in February 2021 continued an injunction that requires Foster to take steps to keep its workers safe.
A Foster plant in southeast Fresno had more Covid cases than any other city workplace. Foster has two plants in Fresno, each with about 1,000 employees. Testing found 20 percent of the employees in one plant had Covid. Cal/OSHA opened several investigations at Foster?s Fresno facilities, but had not issued any fines by March 2021.