Union urges Beshear to move its ‘essential’ workers up on vaccine list

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WTVQ) – The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), which represents more than 25,000 of what it calls essential workers in meatpacking and other frontline industries, called Wednesday on Governor Andy Beshear to prioritize COVID-19 vaccination for meat and poultry, in accordance with new Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidance.

In a new joint letter to governors, UFCW and the North American Meat Institute  emphasized that quickly vaccinating the sector’s diverse workforce of some 500,000 employees across the country will maximize health benefits, especially in rural communities that often have limited health services, while keeping Americans’ refrigerators full and our farm economy working.

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“America’s meatpacking workers are bravely serving on the frontlines so that millions of families can put food on the table during this crisis. To keep our nation’s food supply secure as the pandemic worsens, we need strong action now from our elected leaders to protect these essential workers in meatpacking plants,” said UFCW International Vice President Mark Lauritsen. “As the largest union for America’s meatpacking workers, UFCW is joining industry leaders today in a unified call for governors in all 50 states to immediately prioritize meatpacking workers for access to the COVID vaccine. American lives are at stake and these courageous men and women on the frontlines cannot wait any longer.”

“Health authorities around the world, employers, unions, and civil rights groups all agree – high priority access to vaccines is critical for the long-term safety of essential frontline meat and poultry workers who have kept Americans’ refrigerators full and our farm economy working throughout this crisis,” added Meat Institute President and CEO Julie Anna Potts.

According to numbers released Wednesday by the UFCW:

  • 363 frontline worker deaths and over 63,000 frontline workers infected or exposed
  • 130 meatpacking worker deaths and 20,600 meatpacking workers infected or exposed
  • COVID-19 vaccinations can, in many cases, be administered through meat and poultry facilities’ existing health programs and staff. UFCW and the Meat Institute committed to assist employees with information and access to off-site vaccination, if needed, and to support vaccine information and education efforts.
  • Prioritizing vaccines for frontline meat and poultry workers will build on more than $1.5 billion in comprehensive COVID-19 prevention measures the industry has implemented since the spring.