Report concludes pandemic was harder on meatpacking, food production workers

By: - August 5, 2022 6:25 pm
meat locker

Tubes of fresh-ground hamburger await shipment from a small meatpacking plant in Oakland, which received a state grant this week. (Courtesy of Kylie Kai, Center for Rural Affairs)

LINCOLN — The COVID-19 pandemic was indeed harder on workers in meatpacking plants, grocery stores and other essential industries than the population as a whole, a survey Friday by a food workers union and a Nebraska university has concluded.

Such workers had a significantly higher rate of hospitalizations than other workers, according to a yearlong study by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union in partnership with the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

The president of the union called on lawmakers and President Joe Biden to take “bolder steps” to better address the impact of the pandemic and protect such workers from future pandemics. 

“This UNMC study makes clear that COVID-19 has – and continues to have – a serious and significant impact on America’s essential workers,” said Marc Perrone, UFCW International president.

Among the key findings:

  • UFCW members who reported having COVID infections before May 2021 were twice as likely to be reinfected in the past year.
  • Of those who contracted COVID, 59% said they believed it was likely they contracted the virus in their workplace. 
  • Of respondents who contracted COVID, 6% percent needed to be hospitalized, compared to a nationwide rate of 2%. 
  • Four percent of workers who contracted COVID reported being unable to return to work afterward. 
  • In May, half of the respondents reported that their lives were still deeply impacted by COVID. 

“These essential workers paid a hefty price for continuing to do their jobs,” Perrone said, “which kept food on American families’ tables and our economy moving throughout the pandemic.”

“They deserve immediate action,” he said.

The UFCW represents 1.3 million workers in grocery stores, meatpacking plants and other food-related industries.

The union called for several steps, including providing sick leave for workers when infected, without the threat of losing their jobs, and action on a federal meatpacking worker safety act.

Nearly 20,000 union members were surveyed for the report. A summary can be found here.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.