Nebraska Democratic Party and union leaders on Monday voiced support for farmers, ranchers and workers, calling upon elected officials to help create consistent protocols and enforcement measures to keep the food supply chain working during the coronavirus pandemic.
The impacts of Covid-19 on agriculture — from family farmers and ranchers to workers in the fields and packing plants — are far-reaching and serious. Our state must ensure family farmers, ranchers and workers are kept safe and healthy while providing the essential work of keeping the food chain supply strong.
We acknowledge the work already being done including House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) who recently created a task force to come up with standards and protocols to keep the food chain working at all levels — from food source, to meatpacking plants and to the grocery stores. Additionally, H.R. 6559, the COVID-19 Every Worker Protection Act of 2020, will assist in creating standards to protect workers. The Heartland Workers Center issued a set of best practices for meatpacking plants at the urging of Senator Tony Vargas. Nebraska Appleseed, ACLU and the Farmers Union have long advocated for policies to keep workers safe and level the playing field for family farmers and ranchers. And more recently, the UNMC and Ag Health Central State’s playbook and checklist to keep workers safe.
As leaders in Nebraska, we urge Governor Ricketts to not let this be a plant-by-plant response. Common baseline health and safety protocols, with an enforcement mechanism in place, need to be established immediately for all meatpacking plants across Nebraska.
Baseline protocols should include items below with a clear enforcement mechanism in place:
–Testing for all workers who show symptoms and who come in contact with individuals who are confirmed with the Covid-19.
–Universal personal protective gear provided (masks, gloves, plexiglass between workers, etc.)–at no cost for the workers–while on the floor and for when they enter and leave the workplace. The gear must be high-quality and allow them to still conduct the core functions of their jobs.
–Slowing down the line speed to allow for safe distance in the job areas where this is possible.
–If a worker is impacted with the Covid-19 on the job, sick leave should be fully paid for by the government or business rather than individuals banked PTO impacted. In short, guaranteed paid sick leave.
–American family farmers and ranchers should be given priority for their product to be purchased for meat packing plants at a fair price including the government and corporations stepping in to assist with transportation of the products to the plants.
“We believe that our national and state leaders are making decisions that are irresponsible and definitely not in the interest of our essential workers in meat packing plants throughout our state and the nation. They need to be closing these facilities for a period of time to develop a plan, thoroughly clean the facilities and then reopen while providing testing for workers, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), halting line speed waivers, mandating social distancing and isolating workers who show symptoms or test positive for COVID-19. These employers should be communicating constantly with their employees and implementing the CDC- and OSHA-recommended guidelines for meat and poultry plants. On a national level, we need to urge our congressional leadership to pass H.R. 6559 the COVID-19 Every Worker Protection Act of 2020 that will require OSHA to declare an emergency temporary standard to protect employees from occupational exposure to the coronavirus. We should be protecting our workers and the community they live in, not putting their lives in danger.”
–Susan L. Martin, President/Secretary-Treasurer
Nebraska State AFL-CIO
“Every minute of every day I hear stories from workers on the frontlines of this fight. They do not want to make the choice between staying healthy and providing for their families. They want to do both and the dignity of work in America should allow them to do both. Workers at the plants, farmers and ranchers are all connected to provide safe food for Americans. We are asking the government to stand with them right now and ensure they can do their jobs and keep putting food on all of our tables.”
–Eric Reeder, President
United Food and Commercial Workers 293
“Without workers being kept safe and healthy, the food supply chain is already broken. Family farmers and ranchers continue to responsibly raise livestock that eventually ends up in our grocery stores and kitchen tables. Rural communities are at the heart of America’s food supply and are being hit hard right now with a sharp increase in Covid-19 cases. We need champions in our state and federal government who choose people over profits. We need best practices and policies to protect workers that are implemented in a consistent way with a strong enforcement mechanism. No one in America should fear for their lives in order to provide for their families.”
–Jane Kleeb, Chair
Nebraska Democratic Party