FRANKFORT, Ky. — If you've eaten any meat during the coronavirus crisis, thank a farmer and a food processing worker. Both have been busy keeping the food supply rolling even as the rest of the economy screeches to a halt.
Now, the United Food Commercial Workers Local 227 and Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles have sent a letter to Gov. Andy Beshear asking he make processing workers a priority during the COVID-19 response.
The union wants the governor's administration to increase access to coronavirus testing for food processing workers, extend childcare service benefits and create a place in line for them for personal protective equipment like N95 masks as it becomes available.
"It's important for our front line workers that they know their children are taken care of while they go to work to take care of us," said Caitlin Blair, Communications Director for UFCW Local 227.
The union representing 25,000 workers in Kentucky and Southern Indiana said that while they back much of the governor's response to the crisis, they have seen other states struggle with coronavirus issues that threaten their food supply. They said they are partnering with Quarles to prevent similar problems here.
“Of course we want to make sure that all of our PPE and testing abilities go directly to our front-line workers," Quarles said. “But as a critical industry, if we want to make sure that we keep America fed, we need to make sure that the workers that work in these processing plants have access to both testing and PPE when it becomes widely available.”
Of the 25,000 represented, around 7,000 union members work in meat processing plants.
“Our members are producing the food that we all need for our families and have been working on the front lines for weeks. It's our union's top priority to keep them healthy and safe as they continue to work so that we all have what we need to get our families through this crisis," Blair said.
We reached out to the governor's office for comment. Communications Director Crystal Staley responded: “The Governor’s office worked with UFCW to allow for childcare for many of its members. The office will now review this recent request. The Department for Public Health distributes PPE, which has only been provided to frontline health care workers to date, though many private employers have separately secured it."