Union contract expert says COVID-19 could impact union contracts moving forward

COVID-19 impacts employees at meatpacking plants and grocery stores every day. One expert on union contracts says this pandemic could change the way meatpacking unions negotiate their contracts in the future.

Posted: May 8, 2020 6:55 PM

LOGANSPORT, Ind. (WLFI)- COVID-19 impacts employees at meatpacking plants and grocery stores every day. One expert on union contracts says this pandemic could change the way meatpacking unions negotiate their contracts.

"This has been a really hard time for meatpacking workers not just in Logansport and not just in Indiana but all across the country," said Brigid Kelly the spokesperson for UFCW Local 700.

Meatpacking plants have gone through some big changes in recent day. Tyson in Logansport and Indiana Packers in Delphi both resumed operations this week, despite the coronavirus threat still looming.

"I would say workers are being forced to make an impossible choice,” said James Dworkin a Professor of Management at Purdue University.

Dworkin is an expert on Union Contracts. While the United Food and Commercial Workers Union represents workers at Tyson, employees at Indiana Packers are not represented by a union.

"It always makes a positive difference to have a union on the job because it means you have people fighting together with you for a better life for a better place to work for a safer place to work, “added Kelly.

While both plants have underwent safety changes, UFCW worked with Tyson to make sure new safety protocols were in place.

"Some of the things we worked together on were plexiglass barriers,” added Kelly. “The company also added social distancing and additional personal protective equipment. We were able to get additional pay for our members as well.”

However, Dworkin says this pandemic could lead to a change in union contracts.

"One side or the other can cancel the contract and go for a new contract,” said Dworkin. “I think you might see more contracts in the future having some of this forced majeure language in them."

Force majeure would allow both parties to opt out of a contract when an extraordinary event occurs that is out of the control of either party. UFCW says, they will always look for ways to improve safety.

"We think we have come a long way but we are always looking to make things better for our members, “said Kelly

Dworkin thinks there will be several arbitration hearings following the opening of plants because he predicts people won't feel safe going back to work. The Union says they will continue to work with employers to make sure they feel safe in their work environment.

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