SIOUX FALLS (AP) -- The union representing workers at the Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls said Friday its members have voted in favor of a new contract.

Union leaders say the new contract sends a message to the meatpacking industry that companies need to recognize the sacrifices its employees made during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Smithfield plant was the nation's most active hot spot for COVID-19 cases in the early weeks of the pandemic. Nearly 1,300 workers at the Sioux Falls pork processing plant tested positive for COVID-19 and four workers died.

B.J. Motley, president of the Union Food and Commercial Workers Local 304A, said in a statement the new contract includes fair pay, good benefits and safety protections that workers have earned and deserve.

"Ensuring these jobs continue to provide the good pay and benefits working families need is the best way for us to honor our country's essential workers," Motley said.

The new contract includes a base rate of $18.75 an hour, up from $17, and a $520 bonus.

The union had voted earlier this month to authorize a strike after Motley said that Smithfield wanted the workers to pay more for health care and refused to increase pay to comparable rates of other meatpacking plants in the region.