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Meatpacking union addresses spike in COVID-19 cases at plants, requests more worker protection

(KWCH)
Published: Apr. 23, 2020 at 4:07 PM CDT
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The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union held a Thursday-afternoon press call in Washington, D.C., announcing new estimates of meatpacking-worker infections and deaths from COVID-19, the impact on the national food supply and to highlight a letter to demand action form the USDA and White House Task Force to strengthen safety standards.

The union says plants have made changes to protect their employees, but still need more access to personal protection equipment (PPE). They also say local and state governments should prioritize meatpacking and processing employees.

In Kansas Monday, Governor Laura Kelly sent 7,000 test kits from the federal government to counties in the southwest part of the state where meatpacking plants process about 25 percent of the nation's beef.

With more tests come more confirmed COVID-19 cases. While it didn't confirm a direct connection to meatpacking plants, Ford County on Thursday confirmed 40 more cases of COVID-19.

"The health department tested approximately 80 individuals (Wednesday)," the county says. "It would be safe to expect the numbers of cases to continue to climb due to the increased, rapid testing of individuals."

“Ford County health department has received notification of 40 more cases today. The health department tested approximately 80 individuals yesterday. It would be safe to expect the numbers of cases to continue to climb due to the increased, rapid testing of individuals.

Among the speakers on Thursday's UFCW call, representing Kansas, was Cargill Beef worker Itzel Goytia.

The union says 13 packing and food processing workers have died after contracting Covid-19 and 5,000 have tested positive or been exposed.

At the Cargill plant in Dodge City, Goytia discussed how social distancing is sometimes impossible.

With its call for further protection for employees, the union says it's important for its plants to stay open because the nation's food supply depends on them.