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With COVID-19 Cases Soaring Just Before Thanksgiving Holiday, Grocery Workers, Meatpackers, Farmworkers, and Pharmacists Eager to See Emergency Standards Implemented

Sacramento, CA – The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Western States Council enthusiastically welcomed new COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards from the Cal/OSHA Standards Board approved  today. The standards will help provide better, faster, stronger tools for enforcement officials to ensure employers protect their workers and keep customers safe from COVID-19 infections. The standards make common sense measures, such as disinfection and ventilation standards, tiered enforcement, and building on injury illness prevention plans by requiring a specific COVID-19 prevention program immediately accessible to workers.  

“UFCW members are the definition of essential – keeping food safe, grocery stores open, and dispensing medicine over the last eight months in unsafe workplaces because Californians must stay healthy and fed,” said Joe Duffle, president, UFCW Local 1167. “Enforcement is key to worker safety, and we believe these standards will help keep both workers and customers healthy to prevent the virus from spreading more during the projected uptick in cases over the winter months. Our union looks forward to working with the state, administration and the legislature to further ensure our members are protected from COVID-19 every day they go to work until the pandemic is behind us.” 

UFCW represents 180,000 workers in California at nearly every point in the food chain and many of the sectors most impacted by COVID-19: pharmacies, grocery stores, meat packing and food production, agriculture, and food delivery drivers in the gig economy. Essential workers and UFCW members are disproportionately Latino, Black, immigrant, women and low-wage – and have borne the brunt of workplace COVID-19 outbreaks in the past eight months. 

Just this week, six months after their investigation, Cal/OSHA fined Smithfield Foods, owner of a Farmer John plant in Vernon, and their temporary staffing agency, over $100,000 because they failed “to take adequate measures to protect workers from the coronavirus.” The new standards will empower Cal/OSHA to act more swiftly and aggressively with this type of enforcement action across industries.

“Worker safety is closely tied to public health and we’re hopeful these emergency standards will help minimize the risk our members and their families and communities face,” said John Grant, president of UFCW Local 770. “The workers who keep our grocery shelves stocked, grow and process our food, and keep our economy running, will be called upon more than ever this holiday season. California should immediately implement the standards statewide and provide the robust enforcement needed to slow the virus’ spread in our communities. Essential workers cannot wait.”

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November 19, 2020

Contact: Jenna Thompson, 949.246.1620, [email protected]