rain.png
Monday September 20th, 2021 3:43PM

Union says meatpacking workers should be vaccinated sooner

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Hundreds of meatpacking workers have been vaccinated against the coronavirus but the union that represents many of them says several hundred thousand more have not, despite the risks they continue to face at work.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International union is lobbying for workers to be moved up vaccination priority lists, and major meat companies have launched campaigns to educate employees and dispel rumors about the vaccines. One has offered bonuses to workers who get vaccinated.

But in most states, meatpacking workers are still waiting for their turn to be vaccinated and are ranked behind health care workers, residents of long-term care centers and people aged 65 and older.

Marc Perrone, UCFW president, argues that meatpacking workers, grocery store employees and other essential workers should be vaccinated ahead of older people who don’t have other health conditions.

“Those folks that have to keep our economy going, our food supply going, should in fact be next,” Perrone said.

While major meat companies have not advocated for their workers to jump the line, JBS, Smithfield Foods, Cargill and Tyson Foods are pushing to get their workers vaccinated soon.

“We have witnessed a troubling trend in some jurisdictions where our essential team members who were once prioritized in vaccination strategies are being pushed further down the priority list,” JBS spokeswoman Nikki Richardson said.

Among the first to get shots were 45 older workers last week at a Tyson Foods plant in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. JBS officials estimate that 500 of their workers nationwide have been vaccinated because they meet age requirements or work in occupational health jobs, but that’s a tiny percentage of the overall workforce. The industry employs more than 500,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, although not all of those are production jobs.

Antonio Jimenez, who works at a JBS pork plant in Worthington, Minnesota, said he was out of work for months after contracting the virus last year, and he still deals with lingering symptoms including fatigue. He believes he and his colleagues should be near the head of the line for COVID-19 vaccines.

“I don’t want anyone else to go through what I went through,” Jimenez said. “Essential workers like us who keep America safe must be vaccinated.”

Some companies are trying to set up vaccination clinics at their plants. JBS has been working with health officials to vaccinate workers who are eligible because of their age while discussing the possibility of vaccinating all plant employees.

“We have not yet had the opportunity to vaccinate an entire facility, but we continue to pursue every option to ensure vaccine availability for our essential workers as quickly as possible,” Richardson said. “We are currently focused on achieving the highest voluntary participation rate possible and preventing barriers to getting the vaccine."

Last spring, the virus tore through meatpacking plants, where workers stand shoulder-to-shoulder on production lines, and as a result the UFCW believes members will be eager for vaccines. In a recent union survey that also included grocery and other food production workers, 70% of respondents said they want to be vaccinated.

“They went through a little bit of hell during this pandemic and I think they’re ready to get the shots and get the pandemic behind them,” said Mark Lauritsen, the union's vice president of food processing and meatpacking.

The UFCW, which represents roughly 80% of the nation’s beef and pork workers and 33% of its poultry workers, estimates that at least 21,900 meatpacking workers have been infected or exposed, and 132 have died of COVID-19.

After the outbreaks last spring, meat producers tried to protect workers by instituting temperature checks and wellness screening, installing plastic dividers between workstations, increasing plant sanitization, conducting random virus testing, and requiring masks and other protective gear. In some cases, companies upgraded their plant ventilation systems.

The companies say those measures have reduced infections in their plants, even as the virus spread widely last fall. The industry has been able to keep production to near capacity since the summer by expanding operations from just weekdays to include more Saturdays, and by producing larger cuts of meat to save time.

“We continue to see success from our approach, even amid the current increase nationally in cases,” said Keira Lombardo, Smithfield's chief administrative officer. “While the nation has been in a period of high relative incidence, we continue to see a sustained period of low relative incidence – and many employees, from coast to coast, report that they feel safer at work than elsewhere in the community.”

BJ Motley, the president of the union for workers at a large Smithfield pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, worries that they remain vulnerable and are not receiving vaccines quickly enough. With new variants of the virus emerging and a handful of infections still being reported weekly at Smithfield, he said workers must be vaccinated urgently.

Last spring, over 1,000 Smithfield workers in Sioux Falls were sickened and four died. Other meatpacking plants also dealt with major outbreaks and at one point in April the industry's meat production fell to about 60% of normal levels.

“I think the company is not pushing enough to get these people vaccinated, but now they want them to show up at work,” Motley said.

Sandra Sibert, who has worked at the Sioux Falls plant for 15 years, said even with additional safety measures, workers remain worried about the coronavirus.

“Meatpacking workers are still getting sick in my plant. And I know they are getting sick at other plants across the country,” Sibert said. “Meatpacking workers like me are still facing risks every day.”

___

Associated Press writer Stephen Groves in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, contributed to this report.

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, AP Health, AP Business, AP Business - Industries, AP Business - Agriculture, AP Business - Poultry & Egg, AP Business - Health Care
© Copyright 2021 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Union says meatpacking workers should be vaccinated sooner
Hundreds of meatpacking workers have been vaccinated against the coronavirus but the union that represents many of them says several hundred thousand more have not, despite the risks they continue to face
9:08AM ( 10 minutes ago )
Medvedev in 5, finally, advances to 4th round in Australia
Daniil Medvedev finally worked out how to a win a five-setter
8:58AM ( 20 minutes ago )
The Latest: Senators await closing arguments in Trump trial
A little over a month ago, rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol as Congress was voting to affirm Joe Biden’s election as the 46th president
8:52AM ( 27 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Gender identity bill divides Spain's feminists, left-wing
A new law proposed by the far-left party in Spain’s coalition government would simplify the process to obtain a legal gender and name change
3:43AM ( 5 hours ago )
Cover that red nose! Circus festival adapts to virus rules
It’s been a tough year for the performing arts in most countries, with virus lockdowns cancelling shows and shuttering venues
3:23AM ( 5 hours ago )
Herrera Beutler urges 'patriots' to talk about Trump call
A Republican from Washington state who was one of 10 GOP House members who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump is urging people with knowledge of conversations Trump had during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot to come forward
2:59AM ( 6 hours ago )
AP National News
Fire destroys part of Paul Newman's camp for ill children
A fire on Friday evening destroyed a large section of Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for seriously ill children in Connecticut
11:54PM ( 9 hours ago )
Biden to slowly allow 25,000 people seeking asylum into US
The Biden administration says an estimated 25,000 people who are seeking asylum and have been forced to wait in Mexico will be allowed into the U.S. while their cases wind through immigration courts
7:40PM ( 13 hours ago )
Census: No redistricting data until end of September
The U.S. Census Bureau says it won’t be delivering data used for redrawing congressional and state legislative districts until the end of September
7:39PM ( 13 hours ago )
Top U.S. News short headlines
The Latest: Oxford University testing vaccine in children
The University of Oxford plans to test its COVID-19 vaccine in children for the first time
5:34AM ( 3 hours ago )
Court rules against Apaches in bid to halt proposed mine
A federal judge has rejected a request from a group of Apaches to keep the U.S. Forest Service from transferring a parcel of land to a copper mining company
12:59AM ( 8 hours ago )
The Latest: Mexico to lower virus alert level in many states
Mexico is reducing its COVID-19 alert level in about half of the country’s states amid a drop in infections and hospitalizations in many places, including the capital
12:01AM ( 9 hours ago )
AP Business
The Latest: California expands eligible list for vaccine
California is expanding the list of people eligible for coronavirus vaccine by another 4 to 6 million people
7:18PM ( 14 hours ago )
The Latest: Pentagon OKs 20 more COVID-19 vaccination teams
The Pentagon has approved the deployment of 20 more military vaccination teams that will be prepared to go out to communities nationwide
4:59PM ( 16 hours ago )
Draghi forms new govt blending experts, political operatives
Former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi has accepted the Italian president’s bid to form a new government, announcing a Cabinet of experts mixed with political operatives, at once seeking to assure financial markets and tame a potentially unruly coalition
3:25PM ( 17 hours ago )
AP Business - Industries
Kim lays blame at officials for N. Korea's economic failures
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ripped into the performance of his Cabinet and fired a senior economic official he appointed a month ago, saying they’d failed to come up with new ideas to salvage an economy in decay
12:14AM ( 1 day ago )
California uses ZIP codes, outreach to boost vaccine equity
Counties in California and other places in the U.S. are trying to ensure they vaccinate people in largely Black, Latino and working-class communities that have borne the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic
4:16PM ( 3 days ago )
Black farmers unconvinced by Vilsack's 'root out' racism vow
President Joe Biden’s nomination of Tom Vilsack to lead the Agriculture Department is getting a chilly reaction from many Black farmers who contend he didn’t do enough to help them the last time he had the job
12:07PM ( 3 days ago )
AP Business - Agriculture
6 dead named as inquiry into fatal nitrogen leak continues
Workers at a northeast Georgia poultry plant say they escaped through a fog of vaporizing liquid nitrogen that killed six of their coworkers
12:49PM ( 2 weeks ago )
Ruling brings kosher slaughterhouse new business, old fears
A kosher slaughterhouse in southern Hungary has increased its exports to Belgium since the European Union’s highest court upheld a Flanders region law that prohibited slaughtering animals without first stunning them into unconsciousness
2:58AM ( 2 weeks ago )
PepsiCo goes Beyond Meat in new partnership
PepsiCo is joining forces with Beyond Meat to develop new snacks and drinks made from plant-based proteins
12:14PM ( 2 weeks ago )
AP Business - Poultry & Egg
The Latest: Fauci: Keep wearing masks as vaccines roll out
Dr. Anthony Fauci says people will need to wear masks “for several, several months” to avoid the coronavirus as vaccinations are rolled out
8:42AM ( 1 day ago )
The Latest: European nations help Portugal with outbreak
German pharmaceutical company CureVac says it has begun submitting data on its coronavirus vaccine to the EU regulator with the aim of speeding up the approval process
6:20AM ( 1 day ago )
The Latest: Australia's 2nd largest city to begin lockdown
Australia’s second-largest city will begin its third lockdown due to a rapidly spreading COVID-19 cluster centered on hotel quarantine
11:38PM ( 1 day ago )
AP Business - Health Care
Medvedev in 5, finally, advances to 4th round in Australia
Daniil Medvedev finally worked out how to a win a five-setter
8:58AM ( 20 minutes ago )
The Latest: Senators await closing arguments in Trump trial
A little over a month ago, rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol as Congress was voting to affirm Joe Biden’s election as the 46th president
8:52AM ( 27 minutes ago )
Which GOP senators are seen as possible votes against Trump?
Despite long odds, Democrats say they are holding out hope that Donald Trump will be convicted when the Senate votes on whether he incited the riot on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6
8:20AM ( 58 minutes ago )
Close watch on tight-lipped GOP leader McConnell's stand
Seldom has Mitch McConnell signaled so little about such a consequential vote
8:04AM ( 1 hour ago )
The Latest: Rafa into 4th round in Australia; back seems OK
Rafael Nadal extended his winning streak against fellow left-handers to 16 with a 7-5, 6-2, 7-5 victory over Cameron Norrie
7:56AM ( 1 hour ago )