Published 08 April 2020
The poultry industry is beginning to see food workers fall ill, including a few deaths, as the coronavirus spreads throughout the US. One union is calling on the industry to step up and enforce preventative measures before more workers suffer.
April 8, 2020 — The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) in the United States has actively criticized the poultry industry for its response to the threat of COVID-19 for food workers. The union represents thousands of workers in the poultry processing industry and states that proper safety measures have not been put in place, despite desperate demands from union members.
In a release on their website, the RWDSU states they have “been imploring poultry industry employers like Tyson Foods, Equity Foods, JBS/Pilgrim’s Pride, Koch Foods and Wayne Farms to implement critical standards to protect workers’ safety and to secure the food supply chain. The industry’s response for the most part has only been recent, sporadic and limited to a few locations, leaving most workers unprotected - despite months-long demands.”
The union goes on to explain that certain states are already seeing drastic results from the inaction of the poultry industry. For example, Albany has the second largest COVID-19 outbreak in the US and also houses a number of poultry facilities that supply poultry to Americans across the country. There is great concern about what will happen to the facility operations should large numbers of union members in these facilities contract COVID-19.
In an even more worrying example, the Tyson Foods Inc. facility in Camilla, Georgia, has had two food workers die from COVID-19 and many are in quarantine and suffering from the virus. The company has been condemned for its slow response to union demands for COVID-19 safety measures.
The biggest demands center around securing personal protective equipment (PPE) for workers, some of whom are working in very close-knit conditions with each other. The union states that these workers “debone chickens elbow to elbow with no access to masks.” Other demands include enforcing social distancing measures, putting up protective barriers and staggering start and end times for workers.
Tyson Foods has stated that in some of their facilities they have begun “taking employee temperatures before they enter facilities, stepped up deep cleaning at its plants, implemented social distancing measures and given workers access to protective face coverings.” For the RWDSU, though, these actions are coming too late. As the coronavirus continues to spread rapidly throughout the US, the union argues that more workers will continue to fall ill and die if Tyson Foods and the rest of the poultry industry does not act swiftly and immediately.