UFCW and UNMC release groundbreaking study of COVID impacts on America’s Essential Workers

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), representing 1.3 million workers in grocery, meatpacking, and other essential industries across North America, in partnership with the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC), released the results of a year-long study on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on UFCW essential members. A summary can be found here.  Among the key findings of the year-long study of essential workers were: 

  • UFCW members who reported having COVID infections before May 2021 were twice as likely to be reinfected in the past year. 

  • Of those UFCW members who contracted COVID, 59% said that they believed it was likely they contracted the virus in their workplace. 

  • Six percent of respondents contracted COVID needed to be hospitalized, which is a significantly higher rate than the nationwide 2% rate of hospitalization. 

  • Four percent of workers reported being unable to return to work after contracting COVID. 

  • In May of 2022, half of respondents report that their lives were still deeply impacted by COVID. 

“This UNMC study makes clear that COVID-19 has – and continues to have – a serious and significant impact on America’s essential workers,” said Marc Perrone, UFCW International President. “The UFCW is calling on Congress, the Biden Administration, and states and localities to take bolder steps and policy actions to better address the impact of the pandemic, and to help protect workers from future pandemics. These essential workers paid a hefty price for continuing to do their jobs, which kept food on American families’ tables and our economy moving throughout the pandemic. They deserve immediate action as they continue to confront ongoing risk and the nation’s recognition for their service.”  “The unique partnership with UFCW has recorded the full scope of the markedly increased risk of COVID infections among union essential workers,” said Ali S. Khan MD, Dean College of Public Health, UNMC. “Policies to protect these essential workers are critical to weathering the current surge of COVID cases nationwide and being ready for the next pandemic.”  In light of this groundbreaking study, the UFCW is calling for the following immediate actions to protect the health and safety of our essential workers: 

  • Ensure essential workers in every industry have access to dedicated paid sick leave that protects their employment status when dealing with infection; 

  • Immediately move on legislation, like the America’s Meatpacking Workers Act, to protect some of the most vulnerable workers in the hardest-hit industries; 

  • Implement a nation-wide, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) infectious disease standard, and hold employers accountable who do not take steps to protect essential workers during pandemics. 

Additional Background:  The UFCW Essential Worker Health Survey included participation from nearly 20,000 UFCW essential workers across all fifty states in nearly every industry represented by the UFCW, including essential grocery, meat packing and processing, and health care workers.  UNMC has a long-history of expertise studying and confronting infectious diseases, including maintaining one of the nation’s largest and most advanced biocontainment units. Their work has included frontline research and handling of global pandemics and epidemics, like the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ebola epidemic, and multiple respiratory pathogens like Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (MERS) and Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). 

More on the parameters, methodology, and subjects of the study can be found in the summary of the study here and the full study results here

In addition to today’s new study, in the latest data independently compiled by the UFCW, there have been at least 505 frontline worker deaths and at least 131,295 frontline workers infected or exposed confirmed among the union’s members nationwide. 

Contact Info: 

Jess Raimundo  

Communications Director  

United Food & Commercial Workers International Union 


Dr. Ali S. Khan 

Dean, College of Public Health 

University of Nebraska Medical Center 


We are Nebraska Medicine and UNMC. Our mission is to lead the world in transforming lives to create a healthy future for all individuals and communities through premier educational programs, innovative research and extraordinary patient care.  

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