Local 663 finds recognition for COVID pandemic work

Published 5:56 pm Friday, May 6, 2022

You can’t put too fine a point on Wednesday’s celebration held at the Austin Labor Center. It was here where members of UFCW Local 663, along with state senators Erin Murphy and Jennifer McEwen were able to relish the signing of the $2.7 billion bill signed Friday night by Gov. Tim Walz that will put $750 into the pockets of employees in companies across southern Minnesota including Hormel Foods and Quality Pork Processors.

However, the win goes deeper than simply passing this bill. A good chunk of this has to be recognition for these workers who in every aspect were on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But to recognize this, we have to recognize that it took far too long and was indicative of how many took what these workers were doing for granted in the just over two years of the pandemic.

Nobody will ever say that medical professionals, law enforcement and firefighters weren’t deserving of the supports they were given on the front lines, but with the crystal clear 20/20 vision of looking backwards, we have to admit that meatpackers and those working in the food industry should have been recognized for the efforts they made throughout the pandemic.

More than a few people were quick to shift attention to plants when there was an outbreak of COVID-19, but far too little attention was paid to getting these workers those same supports.

For many in this industry and Local 663, going to work wasn’t an option. Not only because the food industry needed to continue to work for the rest of us, but because families depended on this paycheck.

Murphy spoke directly to this point Wednesday.

“I also know that the people who went to work, went to work because they needed to support their families,” she said. “And this frontline worker pay is a recognition that we asked you to do something that was important for all of us. Something that most Minnesotans didn’t have to do — you did.”

This shouldn’t have been the fight it was, but members of Local 663 stood up to be counted anyway and even though it took far too long to get to this point, they can remain proud that the solidarity they showed led to the results they rightfully should have been afforded from the beginning.

Workers and family got sick and it’s unavoidable that many lives were altered forever by COVID-19. Worse yet, some unfortunately aren’t here today to be recognized.

The benefit of looking back in time is being able to take the mistakes we all make in life and work hard to fix them and better prepare for the future.

This is a major step forward for members of Local 663 and those politicians who stood in the fight with them, but this moment of history can’t be forgotten. It must be remembered.