Community groups highlight missing protections, offer assistance
Lincoln, NE — On Wednesday, April 29, Nebraska community advocates, food production workers, and public health organizations held a virtual press conference featuring Nebraska worker stories and perspectives. A letter was sent to Nebraska Governor Ricketts, urging him to address critical missing COVID-19 protections for meatpacking and poultry workers without delay. We must ensure workers, their families, and communities are safe, and food production can continue in Nebraska.
Nebraska food production worker:
“I have been working for 20 years. At home, we are all stressed. A coworker called me and said: “get tested, I tested positive and the only place I go is work.” I went to the doctor and I am awaiting the results.
Although the company has taken some measures, with the way the work area is structured, it is difficult to keep our distance. There are many jobs where employees are working very closely and that closeness is what can infect us. Now there are quite a few employees who have the virus. At this time, going to work is a risk that we are facing every day.”
Among the protections in the letter, we urge Governor Ricketts to take swift action by:
- Implementing 6-foot distancing between workers on the processing floor, not just in lunch and break areas.
- Requiring paid sick leave, job protection, and shutdown pay so people can afford to stay home and monitor symptoms or care for family members with symptoms.
- Requiring provision of appropriate protective equipment, including masks.
- Ensuring transparency about cases connected to the workplace and information to employees in the languages most prevalent in each worksite.
- Increasing inspections to guarantee worker safety and compliance with best practices.
Erik Omar, Executive Director, Immigrant Legal Center:
“Sixty-six percent of Nebraska’s meat-processing workers are immigrants, many of whom are unjustly denied access to unemployment benefits and not allowed to receive stimulus money through the most recent CARES Act. Immigrants are valued and essential members of our communities who pay state and federal taxes. We must enact safe and humane policies that value the dignity of every person in our state. Immigrants and all food-processing workers should not be forced to work under conditions that violate CDC public health guidelines and local public health directives. The safety and well-being of our communities is directly correlated to how we treat immigrants and minorities. We must do better.”
Becky Gould, Executive Director, Nebraska Appleseed:
“As meatpacking plants in Nebraska become the epicenter of the state’s coronavirus outbreak, the struggles faced by the people working inside are apparent and alarming.
It’s time for Nebraska to get ahead and implement essential protections for essential workers, their families, and communities. By doing so, we can help slow the spread of the virus to protect all Nebraskans and ensure food production can continue safely in our state.”
Rose Godinez, Legal and Policy Counsel, ACLU of Nebraska:
“It’s one thing to say meatpacking plant workers are essential and appreciated; it’s another thing to show it. Nebraska’s essential workers are in critical need of paid leave, personal protective equipment, transparent information of positive COVID-19 cases, and accessible public health information which includes language equity, translation, and interpretation services so they can protect themselves and their families. Protecting workers protects our state. All Nebraskans face increased risk if essential workers go to work unprotected or because they can’t afford not to.”
Gladys Godinez, Community Organizer, Center for Rural Affairs:
“For the last month, we have worked side by side with meatpacking employees and their family members. We spoke to the son of an individual who works at Tyson Foods in Lexington, Nebraska. He asks for the following: ‘Provide our essential meatpacking workers with paid leave, hazard pay, personal protective equipment, and free COVID-19 testing for employees and their families.’ As meatpacking plants close throughout the country, facilities are becoming national hotspots for COVID-19. Companies, as well as state and federal governments, need to step up and offer their essential workers real and meaningful solutions to keep everyone safe and economically secure.”
Sergio Sosa, Executive Director, Heartland Workers Center:
“Meatpacking plants – big and small, union or non-union – need to understand that there is a life and family behind each worker considered an “essential employee,” many of whom are immigrants and refugees. If each and everyone of us does not do our part – in both our workplace and in the community – we will not only see a decline in our economy but also an increase in cases and likely deaths.”