Gov. Tim Walz this week laid out COVID-19 vaccine distribution plans for Minnesota. Meat-plant workers agree that health-care workers and the elderly should top the initial list, but the industry also is pushing for top priority.

By month’s end, Minnesota officials say more than 180,000 people across the state could be vaccinated, with front-line health-care workers and nursing-home residents getting those early doses. Domingo Garcia, national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said he wants to see workers at meat-processing plants get strong consideration as well.

“The workers who put that pork chop, that steak, that chicken on your table, they’re essential workers,” he said. “They’re the ones that are keeping America fed, feeding our military, and they deserve the same protections as other front-line workers, like our health-care workers.”

Minnesota is among the top five states in numbers of meat-packing workers. Garcia said putting them near the top of the list also addresses equity issues, since many are Latinos and refugees. At the start of the pandemic, worker safety was in the spotlight over companies not providing enough COVID protections.

Garcia said he’s been talking with several states in hopes of getting them to expand their early lists. The governor of Kansas recently announced meat-packing workers would be given vaccine priority after health care and vulnerable groups. Garcia said other states need to follow suit, even as some plants have improved worker safety.

“The fact of the matter is, they work shoulder to shoulder cutting that meat,” he said, “and that puts them in serious danger of getting COVID, no matter what the plant does to try to protect the workers and provide PPE protection.”

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union attributes nearly 130 worker deaths and almost 20,000 infections to the pandemic.

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