Warren, Booker call for OSHA standards for meatpacking plants in next relief package

Greg Nash

Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) called on Friday for the next coronavirus relief package to include new Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards as a way to address the ongoing issues at meatpacking plants during the pandemic.

OSHA, a division of the Labor Department, has declined to impose a nationwide COVID-19 work safety standard through an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), despite months of calls to do so from unions, Democrats and worker advocates.

Warren and Booker opened an investigation into the top meatpacking companies in June over allegations that they exploited workers, increased prices for American consumers and exported a record amount of meat to China during the coronavirus pandemic.

They also questioned the companies about lobbying President Trump to sign his executive order in April to keep meatpacking plants open despite coronavirus outbreaks. They requested information from Tyson Foods, JBS, Cargill and Smithfield Foods about keeping workers safe by June 30. 

Over 37,000 meatpacking plant workers have tested positive for COVID-19 and 168 have died, according to data from the Food & Environment Reporting Network. Over 4,600 food processing workers and nearly 5,000 farmworkers also have tested positive. 

“If these companies believe they’re doing everything required of them to protect workers, yet workers continue getting sick and dying, then it’s clear that non-enforceable CDC guidance is not enough – the next coronavirus relief package must include an OSHA ETS to keep workers safe. We also need to massively reform our broken food and farm system to give workers, farmers, and consumer real bargaining power,” Warren said in a statement, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The senators said the lack of consistency in the companies’ responses about the actions they are taking to protect workers underscores the need for an OSHA ETS. For instance, Cargill and JBS’s responses did not include information about social distancing on their processing lines. 

Additionally, the senators said the companies did not share information on prices charged to consumers or paid to farmers and did not provide export data. 

The senators’ call for a OSHA ETS comes as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is expected to include a liability shield for companies from coronavirus-related lawsuits that would be retroactive to December 2019 and extend to 2024. Senate Republicans are set to introduce their coronavirus relief package next week.

Tags Coronavirus Cory Booker Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Food industry meatpacking plants Mitch McConnell Occupational Safety and Health Administration

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