Meatpacking, food processing workers in Austin celebrate frontline worker bonus checks

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(ABC 6 News) – Frontline worker pay legislation was signed late last week at the Capitol by Gov. Walz, giving over 600,000 workers each a $750 check.

Meatpackers and food processing workers in Austin rallied on Wednesday to celebrate receiving that money. About 100 of them from Hormel, Seneca Foods and Quality Pork Processors gathered at the Austin Labor Center.

"Today is very much a celebration," Rena Wong, Organizing Director for United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 663, said.

The union members of UFCW 663 have been fighting for the ‘Minnesota State Workplaces for Meat and Poultry Processing Workers Act’ for over two years.

"You guys are the reason we were able to get this done," Matt Karnes, a worker at Quality Pork Processors, said to the union members.

Karnes said he has worked at QPP for 18 years.

"We bust our tails. We’ve been out there 7 days a week, 50-60 hours a week and showing up every single day," Dan Lenway, who has worked at Hormel Foods for 27 years, said.

Workers like Lenway continued to go to work like normal during the pandemic. During this scary and uncertain time, many of the workers got sick and took it home to their families.

When Gov. Walz’s Stay at Home Order went into place, the workers in Austin at Hormel, Seneca and QPP had to keep going to work because they were considered essential.

"They’re not in jobs where you could Zoom in to cut meat and so they worked throughout the pandemic, continue to work," Wong said.

UFCW 663 represents 17,000 workers in Minnesota from meatpacking in Austin to grocery and healthcare workers. About 3,000 of those workers are in the Austin/Rochester area and they are all eligible for the $750 check.

"And that money for some of our members if two weeks paycheck. That’s food, that’s with kids in school so supplies. It’s necessary," Wong said.

Working during this hard time came at a sacrifice. These workers and others around the country put their own lives at risk to help others.

"They worked throughout it all to make sure that Minnesotans could stay fed and so for the state to finally now acknowledge them is really amazing because they deserve it," Wong added.

Minnesota Senators Erin Murphy and Jennifer McEwen were also in attendance as they are both senate co-sponsors of the Minnesota Safe Workplaces for Meat and Poultry Processing Act.