Ground beef (USDA photo)
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) has written to the chief executives of three major meatpacking companies, charging that the industry’s “unwillingness to implement recommended safety precautions in a timely manner has led to death and the spread of illness from COVID-19 that was preventable.”
Baldwin’s letter is addressed to CEOs of JBS USA Holdings, the largest U.S. meatpacking company, which operates a Green Bay plant where several hundred employees have been infected with the virus causing the sometimes fatal illness; Smithfield Foods, which operates the Patrick Cudahy plant in the Milwaukee suburb of Cudahy, where about 85 employees have tested positive for the virus; and Tyson Foods Inc., the nation’s second largest processor of chicken, beef and pork.
The letter cites news reports of workers continuing to work in close quarters and crowded factory spaces well after social distancing guidelines were issued instructing people to stay 6 feet apart to prevent spread of the novel coronavirus. The Patrick Cudahy plant employees “were only provided face masks in April and learned of infections at the plant from their fellow employees,” the letter states.
“Your actions directly impact not only these workers’ health and safety, but also that of their family members and surrounding communities,” Baldwin wrote.
Across the meatpacking industry, the letter adds, “Workers were also retaliated against, and even fired, for raising safety concerns with supervisors or refusing to do work they feared would expose them to COVID-19.”
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Baldwin, along with Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), has authored legislation to require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue a new standard for mandatory worker health and safety protections related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Her letter states that “voluntary safety guidelines are not being followed and are, therefore, not sufficient to protect workers, the surrounding communities, and our nation’s food supply chain.”
The letter concludes with questions of the CEOs on when they will implement new CDC guidelines, how they are implementing social distancing throughout their facilities, what sort of personal protective equipment (PPE) they are providing, and other issues of employee safety and worker rights in their plants.
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