Press Release:
Nearly 100 Worker, Environmental and Food Groups Call for Better Safety Protections and Hazard Pay for Meatpacking Workers at Risk Following Mandatory Return-to-Work Executive Order

Contact: Abigail Rollins, abigail.rollins@berlinrosen.com, 862-485-2152

Nearly 100 Worker, Environmental and Food Groups Call for Better Safety Protections and Hazard Pay for Meatpacking Workers at Risk Following Mandatory Return-to-Work Executive Order 

NATIONAL - Nearly 100 worker, environmental and food and agriculture groups sent a letter to Labor Sec. Eugene Scalia and members of Congress calling on them to protect meatpacking and meat production workers and guarantee them hazard pay after the Trump Administration took executive action forcing meatpacking companies to remain open through the duration of the Coronavirus pandemic. This order impacts 194,000 employees around the country who are required to continue working in close proximity to others, some of whom are coming to work sick without proper PPE.

Safety regulations within these facilities are not nearly strict enough to protect workers from contracting Covid-19. The high-density working style, the lack of PPE and paid sick leave create an extremely hazardous environment for employees, putting them and their communities at risk of major disease spread. The House passed the HEROES Act on Friday, which included provisions to compel the Occupational and Safety Health Administration (OSHA) to issue an enforceable Emergency Temporary Standard aimed at protecting workers. However, those measures are unlikely to be taken up by the Senate.

In the letter, the organizations wrote, “At a time when frontline workers still do not have basic health and safety workplace protections and are dying on the job, we must strengthen worker protections--not weaken them. Sending workers into unsafe workplaces without adequate protection is completely unacceptable and will lead to more illness and deaths, both for workers, and for surrounding communities. Food workers are not disposable. Public health must be a priority over profits.”

Specifically, the letter calls for: 
  • OSHA to issue and enforce an Emergency Temporary Standard to protect food workers and all essential workers from COVID-19;
  • Congress to immediately pass legislation to compel Occupational and Safety Health Administration (OSHA) to issue an enforceable Emergency Temporary Standard—as is laid out in H.R. 6559—and provide OSHA with commensurate funds to implement this mandate; and
  • Congress to immediately pass legislation to mandate employers to provide premium pay at a minimum of time and half to all workers given the increasingly hazardous, deadly conditions. 
Over the course of this pandemic, over 165,000 workers have become infected with Coronavirus due to overcrowding in facilities, and at least 65 people have died. Despite these numbers, OSHA is not taking any steps to ensure the safety of all essential employees. This shows workers and neighboring communities that their health and safety rights are not the priority and they have little recourse to improve their situation. This intimidates workers from protecting themselves, while some workers who are opting to stay home to protect their health and the health of their families are being told they will be denied unemployment benefits.

OSHA has also failed to ensure workers are protected from the virus and its impacts, refusing to issue mandatory health and safety standards for employers that require companies to protect frontline food chain workers and other workers at risk. With the refusal to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard, OSHA has allowed companies to continue to evade responsibility for worker deaths and exposure to illness.

Without basic health and safety protections in the workplace, essential workers will continue to be exposed to the virus risking infection, and even death. All essential workers need to rely on the same standard of safety and the assurance that they are protected while being forced to continue working.

The following organizations signed the letter: Agricultural Justice Project; Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network; Artisan Grain Collaborative; Better Food Foundation; Black Zocalo Calypso Farm; Castanea Fellowship; Center for Popular Research, Education and Policy; Chesapeake FoodShed Network; Chicago Food Policy Action Council; Coalition for Valley Neighborhoods; Coastal Enterprises, Inc.; Common Market; Community Food Advocates; Corporate Accountability; Dakota Resource Council; Dakota Rural Action; Domestic Fair Trade Association; DC Greens; Ecological Farming Association; Edible Alaska; Environmental Working Group; Family Farm Defenders; Farm Aid; Farm Forward; Farms to Grow, Inc.; Fertile Acres; Food & Water Watch; Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT); Food Chain Workers Alliance; Food Empowerment Project; Food First; Food Industry Employment Program; Food Policy Council of San Antonio; Food Sleuth, LLC; Food System 6; Friends of the Earth; Gallatin Valley Farm to School; Greenpeace USA; Green State Solutions; HEAL Food Alliance; Health Care Without Harm; Idaho Organization of Resource Councils; Indiana Farmers Union; Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy; Italian Inspirations; Jefferson County Food Policy Council; Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future; La Semilla Food Center; Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy, Teachers College Columbia University; League of Conservation Voters; Missouri Coalition for the Environment; National Black Food and Justice Alliance; National Farm to School Network; NC Environmental Justice Network; Nell Newman Foundation; Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT); Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Hampshire; Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY); Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG); Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC); Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association; One Fair Wage; Open Markets Institute; Organic Consumers Association; Organic Growers School; Organic Planet LLC; OrganicEye; Oxfam America; Pesticide Action Network; Pinnacle Prevention; Pittsburgh Food Policy Council; Positive Women’s Network; Pot Pie Factory, Inc.; Race Forward; Real Food Media; Real Food Generation; Rural Advancement Foundation International - USA; Sacramento Food Policy Council; Slow Food Club University of Vermont; Slow Food USA; Socially Responsible Agricultural Project; The Taft Organization; Tucson CSA; Union of Concerned Scientists; United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE); Virginia Association for Biological Farming; Wallace Center at Winrock International; Western Colorado Alliance; Western Organization of Resource Councils; Whitestone Mountain Orchard; WhyHunger; Western New York Council on Occupational Safety and Health (WNYCOSH); and World Animal Protection. 

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