The order uses the Defence Production Act to classify meat processing as critical infrastructure to try to prevent a shortage of chicken, pork and other meat on supermarket shelves. Unions fired back, saying the White House was jeopardizing lives and prioritizing cold cuts over workers’ health.
More than 20 meatpacking plants have closed temporarily under pressure from local authorities and their own workers because of the virus, including two of the nation’s largest, one in Iowa and one in South Dakota. Others have slowed production as workers have fallen ill or stayed home to avoid getting sick.
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“Such closures threaten the continued functioning of the national meat and poultry supply chain, undermining critical infrastructure during the national emergency,” the order states.
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The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents 1.3 million food and retail workers, said Tuesday that 20 food-processing and meatpacking union workers in the U.S. have died of the virus.