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Plagued by COVID outbreaks, the meatpacking industry could be forced to change under Biden

The Network for Public Health Law
the Occupational Safety and Health Administration
the Department of Labor
Trump administration’s
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
the U.S. Department of Agriculture –
Yahoo News
the United Food and Commercial Workers International
the National Employment Law Project
Labor Department
the University of Notre Dame
Smithfield Foods
the White House
The North American Meat Institute
Government Accountability Office
Texas State University
the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health
the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting
Big Ag

Donald Trump
Joe Biden
Jill Krueger
Elizabeth Warren
Adam Pulver
Celeste Monforton
Cory Booker
Kenneth Sullivan
Gregory Wagner
Jessica Martinez


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“Thousands of meatpacking workers contracted COVID-19 because giant meatpackers refused to lose a single dollar slowing down line speeds to keep workers safe, and the Trump administration’s (Department of Labor) accommodated them at every turn,” said U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a frequent critic of the agency’s response to the coronavirus outbreaks inside meatpacking plants. “A Biden administration can immediately restore OSHA to serve workers, not big corporations – starting by issuing enforceable health and safety standards for COVID-19, conducting on-site inspections, and ramping up enforcement activity so that giant companies don’t escape accountability for workplace conditions that expose workers to serious harm and death,” Warren said. Despite CDC and OSHA guidelines to space out workers, meatpacking companies have resisted spacing out workers during the pandemic, saying it would be too costly.Pulver said he thinks a Biden administration would be receptive to keeping the maximum speeds as they are.“I think workers have a good reason to believe that their concerns and voices will be heard more than in the current administration on this issue,” he said.Biden’s campaign plan called for an emergency temporary standard so OSHA would have to enforce violations related to the coronavirus. OSHA currently has no standards related to infectious diseases.Experts agreed that a Biden administration could issue such a standard swiftly.An emergency temporary standard would be in effect for six months, and the administration could use that time to work on a permanent standard.Celeste Monforton, a lecturer in public health at Texas State University who worked at the Department of Labor for more than a decade, said issuing an emergency standard would be “very aggressive, robust action.”“That shows the recognition by the administration of what a critical piece of the pandemic is related to what’s happening in workplaces,” she said, “and that the consequence is not just for the workers but for the people who live in those surrounding communities.”OSHA’s own guidance for meatpacking plants, issued with the CDC, could serve as the foundation. The Trump administration shelved it in 2017.“Those rules are sitting on the shelf while workers are dying, which is unacceptable and an avoidable tragedy,” said Jessica Martinez, co-executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health.Biden’s campaign plan called for expanding the standard for “all relevant workplaces.” While it’s not clear whether that would include meatpacking plants, Perrone hopes that it would.“We’re hopeful" he said, "this administration will take this much more serious.”This story is a collaboration between USA TODAY and the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.

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