Durbin To UFCW Members: Worker Health And Safety At Meat Plants During Pandemic Is A Top Priority

SPRINGFIELD – Today, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, spoke with the United Food and Culinary Workers (UFCW) to discuss President Donald Trump’s executive order to keep meat-processing plants operating during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Durbin shared his concerns that the executive order ignores the health and safety recommendations of public health experts. He also discussed his support for more personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing for meat plant workers, hazard pay, and paid sick leave.

“President Trump’s executive order to require meat and poultry producers to continue operations ignores the health and safety realities of this pandemic.  While talking with UFCW leadership and its members today, I assured them I would fight to protect their health and safety as they risk their lives, working shoulder to shoulder, on meat processing lines in Illinois and across the country.  Our meat plant workers need more PPE, testing, and a clear and coherent federal workplace safety standard to deal with the threat of COVID-19,” Durbin said.

At least 19 meat processing plants have halted operations because of coronavirus infections, including at least four in Illinois.  According to UFCW, more than 5,000 meatpacking workers have tested positive or have been forced to self-quarantine, and at least 20 have died nationwide.

Last week, Durbin joined 35 Senate Democrats on a letter to the Trump Administration inquiring about the actions it has taken to ensure the safety of the nation’s food supply and protect the essential federal and private sector food supply chain workforce.

Senate Democrats have proposed the creation of a “Heroes Fund” that would provide a $25,000 pandemic premium pay increase for essential front line workers.  This would be equivalent to a raise of about $13/hour from the start of the public health emergency through December 31, 2020. 

Durbin is a cosponsor of the PAID Leave Act, which would ensure all workers can take 14 days of paid sick leave and 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave during the crisis.