Source: United States House of Representatives – Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (OH-11)
WASHINGTON –Today, Representatives Marcia Fudge (OH-11) and Emanuel Cleaver, II (MO-5), and 46 Members of Congress called on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide transparency and guidance to ensure workers are protected as they continue to operate in meat processing facilities. This effort comes after an Executive Order classifying these plants as critical infrastructure, forcing them to remain in operation.
“The meat packing industry has been devastated by COVID-19, with infection hotspots appearing in processing plants across the country,” said Rep. Fudge. “While the security of our food supply is critical to keeping Americans fed during this crisis, forcing workers to choose between their jobs and their safety is reckless and irresponsible. If frontline food workers are to remain on the job, the Administration needs to put forward a clear plan for how it plans to protect and adequately compensate these workers.”
“These processing plants are extraordinarily susceptible to outbreaks of COVID-19 due to the confined spaces in which workers perform their duties,” said Rep. Cleaver. “An outbreak in one of these plants can lead to spike in cases in our rural communities at-large, where populations tend to lean disproportionately toward individuals most vulnerable to complications from coronavirus. I understand these facilities are critical to the food supply chain, but the safety of workers must always come first. Forcing these facilities to remain open without sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) or protocols to ensure workers can maintain proper social distancing will put workers’ lives and rural communities at risk, not to mention the very real possibility that the plants will be unable to function efficiently without healthy workers.”
Fudge and Cleaver are asking the Secretaries to provide transparency to Congress and the public on the following:
1. What guidance has been shared with meat processing plants regarding the steps they need to undertake to ensure worker health and safety before reopening or the steps they must undertake immediately to ensure worker health and safety if they are currently operating?
2. How is the federal government coordinating with meat companies, employees, state and local health departments, and local communities?
3. What is the plan and timeline for distribution of PPE for all plant employees and will these supplies be sourced from the states’ supply or the federal stockpile? Will there be continued deliveries of PPE while the DPA is invoked for these processing plants to ensure all employees are adequately protected?
4. As part of the DPA and any forthcoming guidance, will companies be required to retrofit plants and/or modify shifts and other practices in order to ensure compliance with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommended social distancing?
5. What enforcement mechanisms will be put in place to ensure OSHA and CDC guidance is adhered to at individual plants?
6. Will there be a hotline or other mechanism for employees to report violations?
7. Will increased testing be provided at these plants for symptomatic and asymptomatic employees, including contact tracing? Is there sufficient testing capacity to regularly test all employees, whether or not they are symptomatic?
The text of the letter can be found here.