Hispanic Caucus asks for Department of Labor meeting on COVID in meatpacking plants

Hispanic Caucus asks for Department of Labor meeting on COVID in meatpacking plants
© Greg Nash

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) asked Thursday for a meeting with Labor Secretary Eugene ScaliaEugene ScaliaBiden should keep the new commonsense independent contractor rule Demolition at the Labor Department, too AFL-CIO calls on Trump to resign or be removed from office 'at once' MORE and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) head Loren Sweatt to clarify the agency's oversight of working conditions at meatpacking plants amid coronavirus.

"Even with alarming irregularities in reported data, trends across the board show that there has not been a flattening in the number of new COVID-19 cases in this sector since the pandemic began," wrote CHC Chairman Joaquín Castro (D-Texas).

Castro added that 33,000 cases of coronavirus have been tied to meatpacking plants, and "at least 132 meatpacking workers have died."

ADVERTISEMENT

"Yet, in light of these numbers, OSHA only issued its first coronavirus workplace citation to a nursing home in Ohio in late July and has not yet issued any citations to meat or poultry processing facilities," wrote Castro.

Meatpacking as an industry disproportionately employs people of color, particularly Latinos, who often have to work in close proximity to each other.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought light to the issue of worker safety in meat and poultry processing centers, a longstanding topic among Hispanic labor activists.

But questions have been raised about whether reducing crowding or line speeds in those plants could risk the overall food supply.

And some officials, like Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, have privately blamed the lifestyle of meatpacking workers on the high rates of coronavirus transmission. 

Castro wrote that the CHC does not feel companies and federal regulators are doing enough to protect workers at meat and poultry packing centers.

In his letter, Castro asked Scalia and Sweatt for the meeting to respond to a series of questions on Labor and OSHA's roles in supervising proper workplace conditions amid the pandemic.

A representative for the Department of Labor did not immediately return a request for comment.

In June, CHC members met with meatpacking labor representatives and the heads of the largest meat and poultry processing companies. 

The CHC is seeking to strengthen federal oversight of the industry, and to pass measures such as hazard pay for essential workers.

"We cannot sit back and watch as the vulnerable communities that make up a majority of this industry’s essential workforce face dangerous working conditions. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, almost one-half, 44 percent, of meatpacking workers are Hispanic, and according to CDC data last accessed in early July, 87% of workers in the meat and poultry industry who tested positive belonged to racial or ethnic minorities," wrote Castro.

Castro was joined by fellow CHC members Reps. Ruben GallegoRuben GallegoSinema reignites 2024 primary chatter amid filibuster fight  The Hill's Morning Report: Biden takes it on the chin Gallego says it's 'past time' Sinema, Senate protect voting rights MORE (D-Ariz.), Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.), Adriano EspaillatAdriano de Jesus Espaillat CabralSixteen Hispanic House Democrats ask EPA for tougher methane rule Democrats mull hardball tactics to leapfrog parliamentarian on immigration Rapper French Montana talks opioid epidemic, immigration on Capitol Hill MORE (D-N.Y.), Veronica EscobarVeronica EscobarJan. 6 brings Democrats, Cheneys together — with GOP mostly absent In their own words: Lawmakers, staffers remember Jan. 6 insurrection Overnight Defense & National Security — Nation marks 1 year since Capitol riot MORE (D-Texas), Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezSen. Brian Schatz tests positive for COVID-19 Democrats call on FDA to revisit ban on gay, bisexual men donating blood amid shortage Senate Democrats introduce bill to ban stock trades in Congress MORE (D-N.Y.), Jimmy GomezJimmy GomezSixteen Hispanic House Democrats ask EPA for tougher methane rule Pressley offering measure condemning Boebert Democrats livid over GOP's COVID-19 attacks on Biden MORE (D-Calif.), Gil CisnerosGilbert (Gil) Ray CisnerosMORE (D-Calif.), Sylvia GarciaSylvia GarciaHouse passes bill to prohibit age discrimination against job applicants Democrats want to bolster working women, but face tortuous choices The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Gears begin to shift in Congress on stalled Biden agenda MORE (D-Texas), Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), Filemon VelaFilemon Bartolome VelaMembers of Congress not running for reelection in 2022 Lobbying world Democrats brace for flood of retirements after Virginia rout MORE (D-Texas), José Serrano (D-N.Y.), Grace NapolitanoGraciela (Grace) Flores NapolitanoSixteen Hispanic House Democrats ask EPA for tougher methane rule A law hindering treatment for severe mental illness must be repealed Trump signs bill authorizing memorial to fallen journalists MORE (D-Calif.), Luis Correa (D-Calif.), Juan VargasJuan C. VargasEx-special envoy: Biden's approach to Haiti a 'recipe for disaster' On The Money — Senate risks Trump's ire with debt ceiling deal Vargas pushes for broader ESG disclosure: 'The good, the bad, and the ugly' MORE (D-Calif.), Lucille Roybal-AllardLucille Roybal-AllardClyburn says he's worried about losing House, 'losing this democracy' On The Trail: Retirements offer window into House Democratic mood Democrats eager to fill power vacuum after Pelosi exit MORE (D-Calif.), Norma TorresNorma Judith TorresDemocrats eager to fill power vacuum after Pelosi exit House passes giant social policy and climate measure State Democrat group teams up with federal lawmakers to elect down-ballot candidates MORE (D-Calif.), Xochitl Torres Small (D-N.M.), Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), Jesús García (D-Ill.), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Northern Mariana Islands Del. Gregorio Kilili Camacho SablanGregorio Kilili Comacho SablanDemocrats battle over best path for Puerto Rico Hispanic Caucus asks for Department of Labor meeting on COVID in meatpacking plants House chairman asks CDC director to testify on reopening schools during pandemic MORE (D).