(NEW YORK, NY) – Today, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which represents thousands of poultry processing workers across the southern United States, called on Koch Foods to do better by their workers and demanded that they come to the table and negotiate health and safety terms to be followed during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as critical “essential” pay.
Over the past month, the RWDSU has been calling on the poultry industry employers to implement critical standards to protect workers’ safety and to secure the food supply chain. (Press release on the RWDSU’s demands on the industry is available here). After that initial set of demands on the industry was made by the RWDSU some companies have begun to; arrange daily calls with union representatives, provide personal protective equipment (PPE); and additional partitions and social distancing measures also have begun to take effect as well. Action by the entire poultry industry has been too little too late for workers, and workers will continue to die from COVID-19 unless staggering improvements are made across the industry.
Koch Foods though has taken a clear anti-worker and anti-human stance through it all and has refused to substantively meet or report to the union their health and safety measures, or on the numbers of positive cases or quarantines of members exposed to COVID-19. Save for one phone call, to just one of two of the RWDSU’s regional councils, which represents workers at Koch Foods, the company has refused to answer questions from the union as to the current status of their facilities. The last straw with Koch Foods came late yesterday when they canceled a scheduled call less than 24-hours before it was to take place between them and the RWDSU.
The RWDSU represents thousands of Koch Foods poultry processing workers at four of their facilities, which are located in Montgomery, Gadsden and Ashland, Alabama; and in Pine Mountain Valley, Georgia.
In response, the RWDSU’s Regional Council Presidents, who represent workers in poultry processing across the south issued statements calling on Koch Foods to meet and negotiate around the staggering health and safety issues RWDSU members are facing:
“Our members are scared, they’re terrified that the one job they have that’s keeping their families afloat right now may make them or their families sick or worse kill them. The fact that Koch Foods won't make time to talk to us is disgraceful and inexcusable. The executives of Koch Foods are safe at home with their families, while our members' lives are on the line, it makes me sick. There is so much that food processing companies need to be doing right now to protect their essential workers and America’s food supply. Koch Foods must implement critical health and safety measures now to protect our members, and we demand you speak with us to ensure our members concerns are heard,” said Randy Hadley, President of the Mid-South Council of the RWDSU, which represents 15,000 workers across the southern United States, in food processing, distribution, and healthcare.
“I have one question for Koch Foods, do you think our members planned to die going to work in your facility? You’ve said you don’t have time to talk about what’s happening in the plant. Well let me tell you, our members don’t have any more time to waste not knowing if they are safe at work or not. We will not stand to be ignored, our members' lives are at stake here, and they cannot be ignored. You must communicate with us so we can truly talk about how members will be protected during this national crisis while performing the critical and essential work they do. Our members need proper PPE, proper protective barriers, critical social distancing measures, and ‘essential’ pay for the work they are carrying out feeding America during a global pandemic. Koch Foods must work with us to share information so that our members can go to work knowing that every possible effort has been made to protect them,” said Edgar Fields, President of the Southeast Council of the RWDSU, which represents 10,000 workers across the southeastern United States, many in food processing and distribution.