ACLU Calls On State, Regional Health Officials To Mandate Meatpacking Plant Rules

A graphic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention illustrates recommended spacing for workers at meatpacking plants. (Credit: CDC)
May 11, 2020 - 6:04pm

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska is calling on state and regional officials to regulate the meatpacking industry amid COVID-19 outbreaks at several facilities.

Legal and Policy Counsel Rose Godinez says plants don’t have to choose between closing down or risking the health and safety of workers.

"It is a false choice between maintaining the economy and keeping production going, and keeping workers safe," Godinez said. "You can do both of them but you have to definitely protect workers, otherwise what are plants going to do without a workforce, what are families going to do without their parents?”

A graphic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention illustrates recommended spacing for workers at meatpacking plants. (Credit: CDC)

The CDC, OSHA and University of Nebraska Medical Center have all published guidelines for meatpacking plant safety during the pandemic.

The ACLU is asking the Nebraska Department of Labor and the directors of four regional health departments to make those recommendations enforceable.

For example, requiring six feet distance between workers on the production line, and notifying co-workers of anyone who tests positive.

Gov. Pete Ricketts said Monday enforcement is a federal issue: "That’s really OSHA’s business to be able to enforce, not the state of Nebraska’s." 

Godinez says the state does have statutory power to conduct inspections and to request federal enforcement.

About 1,200 people have signed an ACLU petition asking state officials to mandate meatpacking plant safety rules.

Godinez says the state should also be tracking COVID-19 cases by race; Nebraska is one of just five states not releasing that data publicly.

"We already know from statistics out there from the Department of Labor that the majority of people working at meatpacking plants are immigrants or refugees, and are people of color," Godinez says.

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