Food workers experience unfair conditions during pandemic, seek representation

Union favorability is at record highs, with the COVID-19 pandemic proving to many that an organized workforce is good for workers.

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 700 Communications Director Brigid Kelly joined the AWF Union Podcast to discuss the pandemic related workload, what COVID-19 proved to workers and why the PRO Act needs to be passed.

COVID-19 pandemic workload

The COVID-19 pandemic boosted the workload for grocery workers and employees of meatpacking plants. While people still needed to eat, fewer workers were allowed to be in facilities. Additionally, during the early days of the pandemic, shoppers hoarded some foods and other items like toilet paper. Workers could barely keep up with the bulk purchases, as shelves were often left empty.

The UFCW voiced concerns for these workers, who were often forced to work in unsafe conditions. Even though meatpacking plants gained notoriety for large-scale COVID-19 outbreaks, employees were forced to work because the industry was deemed essential.

As a result of the unsafe working conditions, many workers who did not have representation before the pandemic sought it out afterwards. They wanted to work in a safer environment where rules are enforced, receive a livable wage and good benefits and be provided proper PPE.

The importance of passing the PRO Act

The PRO Act is a proposed bill that if passed will fundamentally transform labor law. According to Kelly, workers are the most important part of the economy and are the engine driving companies to push forward. She said it is time labor laws are enforced and stiff penalties are handed out to violators.

Additionally, if the PRO Act is passed, workers will be able to form unions much easier than in years past. Companies will typically resist unions through captive audience meetings, posting anti-union language and more. The PRO Act contains stiff penalties for such activity.


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