SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Unions are known for standing up for workers’ rights, allowing them to band together to demand better and safer working conditions. That fight continues all across America, including right here in South Dakota.

Despite the pandemic that has hung over the country for the past year, South Dakota Federation of Labor Kooper Caraway tells us that unions here remain strong, and have worked hard to protect their members, saying “Many folks have lost their jobs because of COVID across the country, but union members were losing their jobs at a much, much, much slower rate. Union members were much more successful at holding on to their jobs, keeping their positions, keeping their pay and all these things through this pandemic.”

South Dakota unions shoulder a big responsibility; balancing between keeping workers healthy, and keeping them working.

“The last thing we want is for a worker, any worker across South Dakota, to be in a position where they have to choose between living, you know, surviving and being healthy, and paying their bills and supporting their family,” said Caraway.

One worker who knows that dilemma first hand is Sandra Sibert, a butcher at Smithfield, and a union steward for the United Food and Commercial Workers.

Sibert caught the virus in April at a time when she was actively pushing for safety improvements at the plant.

“I emailed Smithfield because in our cafeteria it was very dirty, and we had no sanitizer at our tables. It was very bad. We had no social distance in the cafeteria, lockers, in the lines,” said Sibert.

After seeing no improvements at work, Sibert reached out to union officials who went to work in an attempt to secure PPE and other safety measures at Smithfield.

Sibert is now recovered, and says conditions at the plant have improved, but that there is still work to be done.

Union officials are optimistic about that work, however, pointing to the recent presidential election as a sign of a positive future for labor.

“Joe Biden has shown a commitment throughout his career to be a union guy,” said Caraway. “And we trust him. Now at the same time, as with any politician, we are committed to working together to hold the administration accountable. When they slip up we will let them know, and we will hold their feet to the fire as best we can.”

Caraway says that the Federation’s priority right now is passing the PRO-ACT, the Protecting Workers’ Right to Organize Act, which has already passed through the U.S. House, and is awaiting action in the Senate.