Still Essential: UFCW Local 663 Grocery, Long-term Care and Meatpacking Members Testify at State Capitol for $250 Million for Hazard Pay Bonus from Federal Funds


By President Matt Utecht

UFCW Local 663 and UFCW Local 9 members have been testifying for frontline worker pay at the state capitol to include food, retail and healthcare workers as well as meatpacking workers safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. UFCW Local 663 members from grocery, meatpacking and long-term care testified during virtual public hearings this summer, making the case that UFCW members are frontline essential workers that deserve to be included in any program that the Frontline Worker Pay Working Group puts together to recommend to the MN Legislature for bonus pay since the pandemic began last year.

$250 Million in funds was allocated to the State of Minnesota from the American Rescue Plan for bonus pay for frontline essential workers earlier this year. Governor Walz appointed the Frontline Worker Pay Working Group to come up with a program to disperse the funds. As of this writing, the Frontline Worker Pay Working Group continues to work towards a plan that they have to unanimously put forward to the full legislature in a special session. 

Members Testify At Public Hearings

UFCW Local 663 and Local 9 members worked with our Local and IU staff to highlight the impact that COVID has had on their worklife. Testimony was limited to about 2 minutes each over Zoom public hearings. All member testimonies are available on the UFCW Local 663’s YouTube page.

Local 663 member Mark Husbyn works at Cub Foods in Crystal and testified in August:

“I think that those working in retail are some of the most vulnerable because people come in without any protection. Please make it right and provide frontline essential worker pay to all grocery and meatpacking workers for the services we continue to provide to our communities.”

Nancy Carabantes, Local 663 member at JBS in Worthington, testified as well:

“My coworkers and I were deemed essential, along with my union family in healthcare and grocery–so we kept showing up for work. We kept showing up so all of us would have food available to buy for our families – throughout America and around the world where our products are shipped. You and other Minnesotans required this of us. And we are proud we did our part.

We are risking ourselves, our kids, and our community by going to work. We can’t do a Zoom meeting to cut meat.

Providing a frontline worker pay bonus to all of us who showed up, and continue to show up during this pandemic, would be a sign of respect to me and my fellow union family in meatpacking, grocery, and healthcare.”

Claudia Ambriz, a UFCW Local 9 member who works at Quality Pork Products in Austin recently testified:

“When COVID hit, I watched the virus go from department to department and from nights to days. I watched co-workers fall ill as it went through the Plant, though our neighborhoods, and the apartment buildings where my co-workers live.

I have seen some close friends who were very sick and who still suffer from the effects of COVID over a year ago. This stuff is NO JOKE!

We kept the state fed. We kept going to work. We kept getting sick but we kept running. Some nights we were so short of workers hardly anyone was on their own job, but we did it because we knew it was the right thing to do.”

I gave a statement to the press in July when the hearings began.

“Minnesota’s grocery, meatpacking and healthcare workers did not sign-up to risk their lives, but they have been coming to work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and serving their communities. Our members, and all frontline workers deserve to be compensated for the extreme risk that they and their families face every day. Minnesota should use some of the federal COVID-19 funds to provide premium pay for essential frontline workers this year.”

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Our Union Fights for Hazard Pay

  • Our union continues to fight for hazard pay both with union employers, and at the state and federal levels.
  • Fellow UFCW Local 663 union members testified at the Minnesota State Capitol this summer, making the case that we, as frontline essential workers, deserve a shot at the $250 million in funds for bonus pay to essential workers in our state.
  • Our union won agreements with grocery employers for additional one time bonuses in the forms of Hazard Pay that were distributed this spring after contract ratifications.
  • Our union sent letters to all of our grocery union employers calling on them to instate or reinstate Hazard Pay. Employers continue to make healthy profits during the ongoing pandemic. Check out the Fox 9 news coverage.
  • UFCW has been a leading national voice for frontline workers and applauded recent Biden Administration guidance calling for essential worker COVID premium pay to be prioritized as governors distribute $350 billion in state COVID relief aid from the American Rescue Plan. 

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