May 6, 2020

Meat packing plants are forced to stay open. But do workers have to show up?

WHAT: The federal government has ordered meat packing and processing plants to remain open during the coronavirus pandemic, despite COVID-19 outbreaks in several facilities nationwide. United Food and Commercial Workers (UCFW), the union representing employees at these plants, responded by requesting increased safety measures for employees, including increased testing, access to personal protective equipment and additional federal oversight.

WHO: James B. Dworkin, a professor in the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University, is an expert and author focusing on unions and collective bargaining. He has been an arbitrator in a variety of labor-management disputes. Dworkin says most meat packing plants have collective bargaining contracts with UCFW that could protect workers who refuse to come to work in fear of becoming ill or spreading the virus to family members.

dworkin-james James B. Dworkin. (Courtesy photo) Download image

QUOTE: “These contracts have what is referred to as ‘just cause’ language in them, meaning that a worker can only be discharged if such action is justified. Would being fired for safety concerns be considered just cause? An arbitrator may need to decide that question. If a worker simply quits due to safety concerns, can he or she collect unemployment compensation? This will depend on the state in which the plant is located and if that particular state allows unemployment for safety reasons.”

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Writer: Joseph Paul, paul102@purdue.edu (working remotely but will provide immediate response) 

Source: James B. Dworkin, jdworkin@purdue.edu (available for phone and Zoom interviews)

Note to Journalists: A meat packing stock image and a photograph of the professor is available to journalists via Google Drive.

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