Vitaminwater making bold claims

Since its founding in 1899, NCL has been on the look-out for product claims that may be deceptive or misleading. So when we came across a few advertisements about vitaminwater recently, we were shocked to see that the company that manufactures vitaminwater, Glaceau (a Coca-Cola company), is suggesting that its products can keep you healthy or pre-empt the need for flu shots!

In a formal complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission in February 2011, NCL is pointing to print and television advertisements that suggest vitaminwater can replace flu shots or prevent illness and prey on consumers’ health concerns to sell a high-calorie product:

“These advertising claims are not only untrue; they constitute a public health menace. Stopping these vitaminwater claims, which contradict information by the Centers for Disease Control and other public health authorities, should be a top FTC priority,” stated Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of NCL.

The NCL complaint also urged the FTC to halt deceptive label statements for vitaminwater that describe the product as:

According to NCL, the statements are deceptive because the products on which they appear are not simply made from vitamins and water, but are made with crystalline fructose or other forms of sugar, and contain 125 calories per bottle.

“Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese; the last thing people need is sugar water with vitamins you could get from eating a healthy diet, or by taking a vitamin pill, Greenberg stated.

The FTC should act now, during cold and flu season, to stop vitaminwater’s outlandish claims,” she said.

Read NCL’s letter to the FTC here, or tell vitaminwater what you think of its ads here.

Not so sweet: Child labor in banana production

By Child Labor Coalition intern Ellie Murphy

Americans eat a lot of bananas. The U.S. is the world’s biggest importer of bananas, eating between 28 and 30 bananas per person per year. Worldwide, bananas are the most popular fruit with 100 billion consumed annually. The fruit is nutritious and cheap. Prices generally fluctuate between 30 cents and $1.00 per banana. It’s a great deal for the consumer, but someone is paying a heavy price to produce bananas: exploited farmworkers, including many children.
Stagnating banana prices have put the squeeze on farmers, leading some planters to hire the cheapest workers—children. The work is hard, often dangerous, and not fit for children. Yet they toil in the fields to help their impoverished families.

Countries that use child labor to produce bananas include Ecuador, Belize, Brazil, Nicaragua, and the Philippines, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s (USDOL) List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor.

Poverty is the main driver of child labor, but children in the developing world face barriers to accessing education that can push them to farm work. Besides the cost of school, uniforms, and books, there are also some countries that don’t have enough schools, classrooms, or teachers. And transportation problems can impact children’s ability to attend school.

Child labor in the banana sector poses significant challenges to children’s health and overall well-being. Child workers employed at these plantations are often forced to handle sharp tools like machetes, carry heavy loads, and face exposure to agrochemicals like pesticides and fungicides without protective clothing or gear. Dizziness, nausea, and negative long-term health conditions can result in child workers, and because child workers often live on banana plantations, escaping these health hazards is nearly impossible.

Let’s take a closer look at Ecuador, the world’s top exporter of bananas.

A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released in April 2002 found widespread labor and human rights abuses on Ecuadorian banana plantations. Children as young as eight were found performing hazardous work. “The use of harmful child labor is widespread in Ecuador’s banana sector,” concluded HRW. Report authors interviewed 45 child banana workers and found that 41 began working between eight and 13 with most starting at age 10 or 11. “Their average workday lasted twelve hours, and fewer than 40 percent of the children were still in school by the time they turned fourteen,” noted HRW. According to USDOL, almost half of indigenous children in rural areas do not attend school, “which can make them more vulnerable to child labor.

“In the course of their work, [child banana workers] were exposed to toxic pesticides, used sharp knives and machetes, hauled heavy loads of bananas, drank unsanitary water, and some were sexually harassed,” noted HRW.

Roughly 90 percent of the children HRW interviewed reported that they “continued working while toxic fungicides were sprayed from airplanes flying overhead. In an attempt to avoid harmful chemicals, children interviewed about their experience stated that they used various methods to avoid toxic chemicals: “hiding under banana leaves, bowing their heads, covering their faces with their shirts, covering their noses and mouths with their hands, and placing banana cartons on their heads.”

About one in 20 Ecuadorian children in the 5-14 age group work—and four in five of these child workers toil on farms, according to data from USDOL released in its 2019 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor (2019) report.

Clearly, child labor laws in Ecuador are not being adequately enforced. Alarmingly, according to the USDOL, funding for Ecuador’s labor inspectorate fell dramatically from $1.5 million in 2017 to $265,398 in 2018. During that time the number of inspectors increased from 150 to 249. There is no explanation provided for these conflicting numbers but USDOL did note there were fiscal pressures on the Ecuadorian government.

The 2002 HRW report cited many causes of child labor, including discrimination against unionized adult workers who earn higher wages. As a result, many workers who unionize are fired and replaced with children who earn around $3.50 per day, 60 percent of the minimum wage for banana farmers. “Ecuadorian law fails to protect effectively the right to freedom of association, and employers take advantage of the weak law and even weaker enforcement to impede worker organizing,” noted HRW.

Since the 2002 HRW report, Ecuador has raised the minimum age of employment to 15, banned children from hazardous work, and raised fines for employers hiring children.

In its 2019 child labor Findings report, USDOL noted that “in 2018, Ecuador made a significant advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor.” One change involved better protecting unionized employees against discrimination so that children are not targeted for cheap labor. Ecuador has also created more social programs for children susceptible to child labor, including the “Lifetime Plan” that provides conditional cash transfers to vulnerable children from birth.

Despite the positive ranking for Ecuador, child labor in the banana sector continues to be prevalent in Ecuador.  Poverty and limited law enforcement make child labor an unfortunate reality for families.

Banana exporting companies often fail to address adequately child labor and hazardous working conditions in their supply chains. The big players –Dole, Del Monte, and Chiquita Fyffes—need to do more if we are to end child labor in banana production. Dole claims to prohibit child labor stating that “[it prohibits] any people younger than 18 from being hired or employed in any form.” Yet, child labor in the sector flourishes in at least five of the major exporting countries, according to USDOL.

In its Findings report, USDOL makes a number of recommendations to help reduce child labor in Ecuador, including a call for a new national child labor survey, added funding to hire more labor inspectors, and social programs in rural farm areas and informal sectors. USDOL also suggests “removing school-related fees, increasing classroom space, and providing adequate transportation.” These modifications will specifically help children living in rural areas such as migrant children and indigenous children stay in school.

Concerted efforts by the Ecuadorian government and multinational banana exporters are needed if child labor is to be reduced.

Consumers have a part to play in the solution as well. The Food Empowerment Project advises consumers to buy bananas produced with less exploitation. They recommend buying from Equal Exchange. Bananas from small farmer-owned cooperatives are available in some parts of the United States. Look for bananas from Coliman, Earth University, and Organics Unlimited/Grow. “If your grocery stores do not carry these brands of bananas, we encourage you to ask them to,” says the Food Empowerment Project.

Consumers should make their voices heard: the sweetest banana is a child-labor-free banana.

Ellie Murphy is a rising junior at Tufts University, majoring in International Relations and Sociology.

Sorry, fair pay and a safe workplace aren’t on the menu

Diana Ramirez, Federal Senior Policy Advocate at Restaurant Opportunities Center,….

Consumers for Safe CBD is working to protect, educate Americans

As America’s premier consumer advocacy organization, with a rich history of fighting to make the marketplace fair, safe, and healthy for consumers, NCL is hard at work on the most important issues in food and drug safety and to collaborate on improving consumer education.

In recent years, NCL has been observing the CBD, or cannabidiol, marketplace exploding, with products lining shelves of grocery stores, specialty shops—even gas stations. Products were appearing to make many claims or hint at miracle cures, and most consumers had no idea how or whether the products were being regulated. Who is making sure these tinctures, oils, gummies, and lotions are safe, and do they do what they claim?

This is why last year, NCL joined forces with the Consumer Federation of America and the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, to create a national campaign called Consumers for Safe CBD.

NCL had identified a serious need for greater education among consumers about CBD, and that’s why Consumers for Safe CBD was created. Consumers for Safe CBD aims to help educate the public about the risks related to untested, unapproved CBD products on the market, champion the rights of consumers, and call on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and industry to do better to ensure safety and promote a pathway for new products through clinically tested scientific research.

“Cannabidiol, commonly referred to as CBD, is being used in a growing number of consumer products and is illegally sold in stores and on the Internet,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “We’re working to educate consumers and ensure accurate labeling, clear guidelines, and further research to protect against unknown and known risks of CBD products.”

NCL and its partners continue to raise awareness among consumers, policymakers, and regulators about the health risks associated with the unregulated CBD marketplace, in particular with the unproven health claims and often inaccurate labeling of products on the market today. Beyond the known health risks associated with unregulated CBD, there are a number of unscrupulous marketing tactics that prey on unsuspecting consumers. This includes false and dangerous claims that CBD has medical benefits that can prevent and stop the spread of the COVID-19.

By warning consumers about these false claims, participating in media interviews and publishing op-eds across the country, highlighting important research and reports, and sending letters to several retailers, state Attorneys General and Members of Congress, the campaign is working to protect consumers across the country from unapproved and potentially dangerous CBD products.

“We need to better understand the potential health benefits of CBD, but this can only be accomplished through clinical testing and scientifically validated methodologies,” said Greenberg. “We need the FDA to step up for consumers and for the public health.”

The time for action is now. CLICK HERE for more information about the Consumers for Safe CBD effort.

The unsavory side of ‘Food with integrity’

After dozens of outbreaks of foodborne illness over the past four years, Chipotle gave lip service about reforms in their work practices, but the fast-casual restaurant has continued to engage in management practices that lead to abuses of workers that may create food safety risks for consumers. This was the message of a report jointly released by NCL and SEIU 32BJ in February, “The Unsavory Side of ‘Food with Integrity.’”

“The findings of this report call into question the effectiveness of measures that Chipotle put in place to solve their food safety crises of a few years ago,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL executive director. “If Chipotle executive management and the Food Safety Advisory Council are responsible for making sure that this program is implemented effectively to keep the public safe, they have been asleep at the wheel.”

Employees interviewed for the study reported extreme management pressure that led to:
workers being pressured to work while sick; undercooked chicken being served to customers by under-trained grill cooks; and workers being unable to take breaks to wash their hands for hours on end.

In April, NCL welcomed the news that the Department of Justice had imposed on the company the largest criminal fine ever for a food safety case but said the company needs to take additional action and reforms to address the core issues that are driving worker abuses and violations of food safety protocols.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has sickened many people across the United States, essential workers like those at Chipotle and other chains have risked their health and their lives to provide food to their communities. These workers say that long-standing issues at Chipotle are putting them at risk.

“I am glad that the Justice Department has held Chipotle accountable for their actions that have put people at risk,” said Luis Torres, a worker at a Chipotle store in Manhattan. “But even as recent as the beginning of March we had to walk off the job together to fight back against managers pressuring crewmembers to work sick while the Coronavirus crisis was escalating. We’re pressured to make the food faster and aren’t always allowed to take the proper safety precautions. We are speaking out because we just want to stay safe and keep our customers safe.”

The government’s announcement resonates with the report’s findings, including managers pressuring workers to work sick and violations of food safety protocol and Chipotle’s own policies. For example, many workers reported manager pressure not to wash their hands during rush periods so as not to slow the line.

The report also called attention to the ineffective food safety audits, which now must be improved per the deferred prosecution agreement. The food safety audits and Chipotle’s paid sick day policy were part of a set of reforms put in place in 2016 to win back the trust of Chipotle customers following earlier illness outbreaks at Chipotle but according to workers, audits only happen quarterly, meaning that once a store is audited, the manager knows they won’t get audited again until the next quarter.

“We applaud the work of US Attorney’s Office for working with the FDA and for holding Chipotle accountable with a substantial fine,” said Greenberg. “This should be a wake-up call for Chipotle. For years, its management incentive practices have put profits first, endangering the safety and health of customers and workers repeatedly. Now more than ever when food safety is so critical, Chipotle needs a massive overhaul of its management and business practices to put consumer and worker safety first.”

Measures restaurants are taking during the pandemic to reopen

By Nailah John, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

As restaurants open across America, we all want to know what the ideal measures are to keep consumers safe. A few days ago, I went to a french restaurant in Old Town, Alexandria for brunch with my family. We weren’t allowed inside, but a hostess stood at the door with the names of customers waiting to be seated. We all practiced social distancing, every customer wore masks, and every restaurant staff member wore gloves.

We were eventually seated on the patio—six-feet apart—and a mobile menu was circulated to avoid person-to-person contact. My brunch experience during COVID-19 is similar to what states around the country are requiring as restaurants reopen.

According to Eater, all 44 states have allowed restaurants to reopen in some capacity. In each state, varying degrees of social distancing measures remain in place for businesses that want to reopen.

Forbes highlights what health experts say about reopening while also maintaining a safe environment for staff and patrons, including:

  • Implement shifts for employees and stick to them. This helps to make exposure clear and limited in case a staff member test positive for COVID-19;
  • place hand sanitizer on each table, at all entrances and exits, and in bathrooms;
  • regular disinfection of high touch surfaces is needed;
  • provide disposable menus or an online menu, touchless ordering through a mobile, app, text, or phone call;
  • and require all customers and employees to wear masks while waiting to be seated and when going to the restroom.

And here are other measures that restaurant industry experts recommend:

  • Implement available screening measures for employees before they start their shift, check their temperatures. If someone has a fever, send them home.
  • Train and communicate new protocols with your employees, it’s important they are briefed on new protocols or there would be a bit of chaos.
  • Buffets and salad bars should use sneeze guards- glass or plastic barriers that shield food- and utensils should be changed and washed frequently.
  • Install plexiglass dividers between booths and hostess stands.
  • Customers should make reservations as many restaurants have stopped serving walk-in customers.
  • Avoid reusable condiments on tables or self-serve stations and instead switch to single-serve packets for items like ketchup.

Restaurants are reopening and we are all eager to head out and socialize with friends and family, but it is paramount that we all adhere to safety protocols put in place by trusted experts to continue to not risk exposure to COVID-19. Please consumers, wear your mask, wash your hands, practice six-foot social distancing, and sanitize your hands. With your efforts, we can help to flatten the curve.

Tips to reduce food waste during the pandemic and beyond

By Nailah John, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

The food waste epidemic in America has increased with each generation. Food has become cheaper than ever and we throw out millions of tons of food, while 37.2 million Americans are food insecure, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The National Consumers League (NCL) has been an early leader in calling attention to this problem. In 2016, NCL and the Keystone Policy Center hosted a Food Waste Summit, which focused on Food Waste Landscape and how it impacts the consumer. The USDA estimates that we waste 30-40 percent of our food supply. In 2015, the USDA joined the U.S. Environment Protection Agency to set a goal to cut America’s food waste by 50 percent by the year 2030.

NCL helped to launch Further with Food: Center for Food Loss and Waste Solutions in 2017. NCL, along with 12 organizations, joined this online hub to exchange information and solutions towards the national goal of cutting food waste. The initiative focuses on best practices for preventing food loss and waste; providing educational materials; research results and information on existing government, business, and community.

Sadly, during the pandemic, some farmers have resorted to dumping milk and plowing crops under because schools, restaurants, and universities that usually purchase large quantities of food are closed. Dana Gunders, executive Director of ReFED- Rethink Food Waste, recently noted that “people are throwing out less food in their homes, but more food is going to waste throughout the supply chain.” Gunders was recently interviewed on NPR about COVID-19 and food waste.

Gunders offered a number of tips regarding food waste:

  • Consumers are making fewer trips to grocery stores during the pandemic, which makes it easy to adopt better practices that help reduce waste at home. Consumers are planning meals and thinking through what they want to eat and need to buy. Those who meal plan waste less food.
  • Households should do a better job storing food, which helps to reduce food waste. Putting items in correct packages, storing them properly, and freezing what you are not ready to use extends the life of many items. Fresh herbs and asparagus do great in a jar of water in the fridge, and avocados can be stored in the refrigerator once ripe. Fruit does best in a crisper drawer set to “low” or slightly cracked open.
  • “Use by” dates indicate the ideal time to consume the product, but as Dana says, “if you see the words ‘best by’ or ‘best if used by,’ those are foods you can eat well past the date as long as they look fine, taste fine, and smell fine.”

Civil Eats, a daily news source for critical thought about the American food system with a focus on sustainable agriculture, also highlights recommendations for reducing food waste:

  • Revive older food. Soak wilting veggies in ice water to re-crisp them. Un-stale bread, crackers, tortilla chips by toasting them in the oven for 1-2 minutes
  • Instead of throwing away leftovers, think about using them in a new recipe. For example, use your over-ripe bananas to make a tasty banana muffin, banana fritters, or smoothies with milk, ice, or other fruit.

The USDA recommends consumers consider donating food they can’t use to hunger relief organizations, shelters, etc. so that it can be used to feed people in need. And food that is inedible can be recycled into other products such as compost, worm castings, bioenergy, animal feed, bio plastics, and clothing.

USDA and EPA created the food recovery hierarchy (at right) to show the most effective ways to address food waste.

Food waste is always a challenge, but during Covid-19, we can employ some useful strategies. With so many Americans food insecure and people around the world facing dangerous food scarcity, it’s incumbent on all of us to treasure the food our farmers grow, honor it, and use it to feed our families.

Sweetened with what? Lack of transparency and misleading claims make reducing added sugars confusing

Many of us are probably trying to heed the advice of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reduce our consumption of added sugars. FDA has made “Added Sugars” content per serving a mandatory line on the Nutrition Facts label and has established a Daily Value of 50g of added sugars based on a 2,000 calorie a day diet. FDA’s actions, however, have had some unintended consequences.

The agency’s decision to include “Added Sugars” on the Nutrition Facts label has created a marketing incentive for food and beverage manufacturers to replace added sugars with alternative or substitute sweeteners.  Leading brand name products bear prominent claims such as “No Added Sugars,” “Zero Sugar,” and “Reduced Sugars,” implying that the new product is healthier than the original without disclosing how the sugar has been reduced. As detailed in a recent Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) letter and an industry citizen’s petition filed with the FDA (Docket No. FDA-2020-P-1478), consumers have little idea that when they purchase a no/reduced sugar product, they may be buying a food that contains alternative sweeteners, highly processed, or artificial substances.

Most of us following the FDA’s advice aren’t looking to load up on combinations of new-fangled sweetening agents, sugar alcohols and other synthetic substances. CSPI’s January 9, 2020 letter asks that FDA enforce standards for nutrient content claims related to added or reduced sugar. We support that request.

The petition was filed by the Sugar Association, whose members are clearly concerned about competition from alternative sweeteners. But their complaint to the FDA makes a strong case for transparency by citing products that make no/reduced added sugars on the front label, but fail to disclose that sugars have been replaced by other sweeteners—many unfamiliar, some artificial, and some with known glycemic index effects. For example:

  • Rebel Ice Cream claims “No Sugar Added” but is sweetened with Erythritol, Chicory Root Fiber, Vegetable Glycerin, and Monk Fruit;
  • Kool-Aid Jammers claim “Zero Sugar” but are sweetened with Sucralose and Acesulfame Potassium;
  • Oikos Greek Yogurt claims “No Added Sugar and No Artificial Sweeteners” but contains Stevia and Chicory Root Fiber;
  • Quest Nutrition’s Hero Blueberry Cobbler Bar claims “1g” of sugar but is sweetened with Allulose, Erythritol, Sucralose, and Steviol Glycosides (Stevia);
  • Snack Pack Juicy Gels claim “Sugar Free” but are sweetened with Sucralose;
  • ONE Maple Glazed Doughnut Bar claims “1g” of sugar but is sweetened with Maltitol, Vegetable Glycerin, and Sucralose;
  • Snack Pack Chocolate Pudding Cups claim “Sugar Free” but are sweetened with Sorbitol, Maltitol, Sucralose, and Acesulfame Potassium;
  • Welch’s Fruit Snacks claim “Reduced Sugar” but are sweetened with Chicory Root Fiber and Maltitol Syrup;

The petition, among other steps, urges FDA to require that such substances be clearly disclosed as a “sweetener” in the ingredient list. That step seems reasonable to insure transparency and ensure that consumers know what they are purchasing.

The petition also calls for action against outright misleading claims regarding sugar content. The CSPI letter and industry petition blows the whistle on deceptive claims like these:

  • The reduced sugar version of Skippy peanut butter has 1/3 less sugar than its traditional counterpart but has more calories and fat per serving than the regular version. Despite having 1g less added sugars, the reformulated product provides 20 more calories per 2 tablespoon serving. The claim on the front label is misleading because it implies that the reformulated version is healthier due to the reduction in added sugars when the reformulated version is higher in calories.
  • Welch’s Fruit Snacks Reduced Sugar version claims 25 percent less sugar than the original version. The claim is predicated upon a reduction in the serving size of the reformulated version of the product. The original version has a serving size of 25.5g while the Reduced Sugar version has decreased to 22.7g.
  • Oikos Triple Zero blended Greek Yogurt makes a “0 Added Sugar” claim but has more calories per serving than the company’s regular Greek yogurt. The zero added sugars product, which is sweetened with Stevia Leaf Extract, has 120 calories per serving while the company’s original version has 110 calories per serving.

Statements like these turn the supermarket aisle into a minefield of misleading claims that are not good for consumers who are trying to sort out health values. We urge the FDA to prohibit misleading labeling of alternative sweeteners in processed foods and beverages and to grant the citizens’ petition for greater transparency in food labeling when it comes to these artificial sweeteners.

 

Keeping meatpacking workers safe in the age of COVID-19: A view from the front lines

By Nailah John, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

Meatpacking plants across America have become hot spots for COVID-19. Many plants have had to close due to the rapid increase in cases, with hundreds of workers contracting COVID-19 and a tragic number dying from the deadly virus.

Many packing plants have reopened over the past couple of weeks but the question still remains:  what measures have been put in place to address working conditions?

We interviewed someone who has firsthand knowledge of what is happening on the inside.  Robyn Robbins is the director of occupational health and safety at the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW). She has worked for UFCW for the past 24 years and prior to this position she was the Assistant Director for 18 years. UFCW is one of the largest labor unions in America. The Union represents workers in meatpacking, poultry, food processing industry, retail grocery, and healthcare—all considered to be essential workers.

Robbins told us: “Many workers are getting sick and dying, and the industry has a history of exploiting workers.” Indeed, the meat industry does not have an admirable record on protecting workers from hazards long before COVID-19. Meatpacking plants on average can employ up to 5,000 workers under one roof, and the conditions are very challenging.  Workers work closely on production lines, sometimes “shoulder to shoulder,” and the areas where they congregate off the line—such as break rooms and locker rooms—can get crowded.  The virus can spread quite easily under these conditions. And the industry has not done enough to allow workers to socially distance both on the production floor and off, or to notify the union when workers are infected, and who else has been exposed, so that the spread of the virus can be contained.

Even amid the pandemic, the demand for meat and poultry is constant. As a result, meatpacking plants have reopened, albeit not at full capacity.  Robbins noted that OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration)—the federal agency that regulates safety and healt—has taken a backseat and has not done on-site inspections. “There are no safety standards that regulate COVID-19 and no clear requirements or regulations that companies are required to follow and therefore there is no way to force companies to actually take precautionary measures recommended by the CDC to protect workers,” Robbins said. She went onto say that “OSHA is the only Federal government entity that can require companies to do anything to protect workers during this pandemic.”

UFCW local union representatives and stewards are in the plants and work hard to get companies to do the right thing to protect workers through the collective bargaining process. “The challenge is trying to get the companies to space workers out on the production floor, which does require some slowing down of line speeds; some of the companies are doing the right thing by spacing workers out but many are not, and are relying too much on protective equipment and plastic barriers, which have not been proven to offer any protection, when it is really about putting more distance between people,” Robbins told us. Social distancing in break rooms is another challenge. Companies have made some effort to effectively separate tables and are putting tents outside for workers to take breaks in those designated areas. They are also staggering shift times in order to reduce the number of workers in break areas at any one time.

Robbins noted: “not all companies are testing workers when they should be, which is a major problem.” UFCW is calling on meatpacking plants to test workers, but companies are reluctant. “If companies worked more closely with the union, they would collectively be able to come up with strategies to isolate workers, redistribute the work, and be more effective over all in addressing the issues relating to COVID-19 and meatpacking workers.”

UFCW doesn’t agree that reopening of plants should take place where there have been outbreaks and where unsafe working conditions exist, unless the companies have taken the steps necessary to protect workers from exposure to COVID-19. “The companies that did shut down made the right decision to sanitize and clean the plants,” said Robbins. “Some have also started screening workers, set up hand sanitizing stations, providing masks, spacing out common areas, giving workers face shields and putting up plastic barriers on the floor between workers where it is possible – although again, there is no data to show that plastic barriers do anything to stem the spread of the virus.”

But this is still not enough. UFCW wants to see workplaces reconfigured so that workers can be six feet apart, both on the production floor and off. This is crucial for stemming the spread of the virus.

Robbins said sick leave policies vary tremendously. “There are 500 local unions around the country, and the UFCW has been pushing for 14 days’ sick leave, successfully bargaining for this in contracts. Some companies are using a combination of different ways to allow workers to stay home when sick, many suspending their normal sick leave policy and making them more flexible. Some companies use a combination of paid sick days and short-term disability so that workers can stay home to recover and then return to work in a safe way. But not all companies are doing this; a few are even revoking paid sick leave policies that were in place at the beginning of this crisis.  This only will result in sick workers coming to work, because they have to in order to earn a living, and the virus will continue to spread, both inside plants, and outside in their communities.  It is bad corporate policy.”

Due to the thousands of cases of COVID-19 in meatpacking plants and many plants not operating at full capacity, meat shortages may continue. In closing, we so appreciate UFCW representing worker interests and Robyn Robbins’ service on NCL’s Board of Directors.