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Hormel union workers ask for reclassification as first responders to help protect them from COVID-19

Brett Bachtle & Ross Becker
Updated: April 16, 2020 10:47 AM
Created: April 15, 2020 12:40 PM

(ABC 6 News) -- Due to the spread of COVID-19, several meat-packing plants along the I-90 corridor have either closed or are severely cutting back production.

Now, the union leader representing Hormel Foods workers said he’s demanding help from the State of Minnesota to protect the workers in Austin.

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“Our folks are out there trying to keep the food supply going and they’re having a heck of a time trying to get the masks,” said Local 9 President Richard Morgan.

Hormel union workers ask for reclassification as first responders to help protect them from COVID-19 | Hormel union workers ask for reclassification as first responders to help protect them from COVID-19 |
UFCW Local 9 has formally requested that Governor Walz change the classification of Hormel union workers from “essential workers” to “first responders,” giving them a better chance of getting medical-grade masks and other protective gear for working in the plant.

“Our folks are the folks that are out there working shoulder to shoulder where they can’t social distance and they need the PPE and we just can’t get the PPE,” Morgan said.

According to Morgan, behind medical professionals, those next in line for receiving PPE should be those in the foodservice industry.

“The employers are running into stumbling blocks, they’re bidding against each other trying to get the supplies and our folks need them desperately,” said Morgan.

The designation as “first responders” would help assure that the plant can continue operation and keep the food chain open.

“Our folks are nervous, our folks are scared, but they’re doing their national duty to keep food on the table. We saw the panic for toilet paper – what are they going to do if there’s a panic for food?” Morgan said.

Morgan confirms that Hormel is now staggering shifts so workers have less interaction. He also said that so far, the company has had no issues filling all shifts at the plant.

Hormel union workers ask for reclassification as first responders to help protect them from COVID-19 | Hormel union workers ask for reclassification as first responders to help protect them from COVID-19 |

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With meatpacking plants either closing or severely cutting back due to the spread of COVID-19, the union representing about 2,500 workers at Hormel Foods in Austin is  asking for help from the state of Minnesota to keep the men and women safe at work.

Local union President Richard Morgan told ABC 6 Morning Anchor Ross Becker that he has formally requested that Governor Tim Walz change the classification of Hormel unionized workers from “essential workers” to “first responders." Morgan said the new designation would give the union and the workers a better chance of getting medical-grade masks and other protective gear.   

He said Hormel is “bending over backwards to keep everyone healthy” but, he said, the workers' daily work lives are changing. Morgan confirmed that the company is now staggering shifts so workers have less interaction. He also said “by weeks end” he expects the company to be using a temperature scanner and will be testing all workers as they begin their workdays.

Morgan said workers with underlying health conditions have already been told to stay home but that, so far, the company is having no problem filling all the shifts in the plant and said there is no widespread illness.

He said the designation of workers as “first responders” would help assure that the plant can keep operating and keep the food chain open. With the closures at other plants along the I-90 corridor already affecting about 20 percent of all pork production nationwide, Hormel has to keep operating.  

Morgan said he is satisfied, so far, with the cooperation from Hormel management calling these “scary times” for everyone.


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