U.S. Food-Worker Deaths Reach 20 as Thousands See Virus Impact

(Bloomberg) --

More of America’s workers who are keeping food supplies churning are falling sick and dying.

Twenty workers in U.S. meatpacking and food-processing plants have died and at least 6,500 have been directly impacted by the coronavirus, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, America’s largest private-sector union. Those directly impacted include individuals who have tested positive for coronavirus, missed work due to self-quarantine, are awaiting test results, or have been hospitalized, the group said Tuesday in a statement.

“America’s meatpacking workers and our nation’s food supply are in greater danger every day that companies and leaders fail to act during this outbreak,” UFCW International President Marc Perrone said. “It is clear that our food supply chain is threatened, and that is why our country’s elected and corporate leaders must act now.”

Closures at meat plants are leaving the U.S. reeling toward meat shortages at grocery stores. At least 22 meatpacking plants were shuttered at some point in the past two months, and these halts have resulted in more than 35,000 workers impacted and a 25% reduction in pork-slaughter capacity and 10% cut to beef, according to UFCW. That’s left farmers with nowhere to sell their livestock. Things are so dire the U.S. government is setting up a center partly to assist on “depopulation and disposal methods” for animals.

The union is urging the nation’s largest meat companies to strengthen plant safety and take action to protect front-line workers, including increased testing and access to protective equipment.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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