A labor union is objecting to a Trump administration executive order mandating the reopening of several coronavirus-stricken meat processing plants that include the Tyson Foods facility in Portland.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents more than 250,000 meatpackers around the country, has announced its opposition to a presidential executive order directing 14 meat processing plants around the U.S. to get back to work, despite concerns about the coronavirus.

“America’s meatpacking workers are putting their lives on the line every day to make sure our families have the food they need during this pandemic,” UFCW International President Marc Perrone said in a news release Friday evening. “Meatpacking plants did not close because anyone wants them to close. These plants closed because at least 30 workers died and more than 10,000 workers have been infected or exposed to COVID-19.”

President Trump has pushed for a quick reopening because the plants process a significant portion of the nation’s meat – especially a massive Tyson Foods plant in Waterloo, Iowa where more than 1,000 workers have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. That facility resumed operations Thursday.

The Tyson Foods chicken processing plant on St. John Street in Portland reported eight cases of COVID-19 in late April; by Thursday, 51 cases were confirmed at the plant after universal testing of its 400 staff members in cooperation with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Tyson Foods plant was taken offline for three days as management cleaned the plant, implemented safety measures and tested employees. But it appears to be back in operation, though whether that’s directly because of the Trump administration’s order is unclear.


Employees at the plant on Saturday said it was operating, but deferred questions to management, who in turn directed questions to a corporate spokesman. He did not respond to a request for information.

A Maine CDC spokesman did not respond to questions about safety measures, the latest case numbers and the union’s concerns.

The UFCW statement on Friday expressed concern that the federal executive order does not provide the support needed to safely reopen the plants – including increased worker testing, access to personal protective equipment and other operational safety measures.

The Tyson Foods plant in Portland has received state, if not federal support, working closely with Maine CDC officials to contain the virus.

A Tyson spokesman said Monday that the company was installing partitions between workstations, distributing protective face coverings, erecting tents for social-distancing break areas, regularly checking employees’ temperatures and encouraging sick employees to stay home.

Tyson Foods itself sounded the alarm about the coronavirus last month, taking out full-page ads in national newspapers that defended the publicly traded company from criticism about its pandemic safety measures and warned that closing its plants would disrupt the U.S. food supply chain.

Like the union’s statement Friday, Tyson’s ads called for more support from the federal government.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: