Essential workers must have essential protections
Nebraska’s meatpacking workers find themselves in dangerous working conditions
As meatpacking plants in Nebraska become the epicenter of the state’s coronavirus outbreak, the struggles faced by the workers inside are becoming increasingly apparent and alarming. Many face a difficult choice: go to work and risk exposing yourself and your family, or stay at home with no pay.
This crisis has deepened existing inequities already faced by our workers and has exposed a critical lack of programs and protections they need at a crucial time. It’s clear that these essential workers don’t have the essential benefits they need.
For our friends and neighbors in cities like Grand Island, Lexington, Crete, and Fremont, conditions in plants pose a critical risk for Nebraska’s workforce health, food production, and community health.
Inside the plants, lines continue to move fast, and workers often stand elbow-to-elbow. Rising numbers of confirmed cases and lack of widespread testing have revealed mitigation efforts have yet to have a meaningful impact.
We’ve heard directly from some of the workers at these plants. Their stories help illuminate worrisome working conditions.
One worker shared:
“We are working elbow to elbow—that’s why we are getting infected.”
Another worker said:
“We don’t have a choice. I don’t want to go, but I have to go. I have to feed my family.”
These stories are heartbreaking, and they highlight the need for both immediate and long-term action that will protect both workers and local communities, slow the spread of the virus, and preserve food production.
Workers must be able to work with a safe distance between them and their coworkers. That means maintaining a six-foot minimum distance at all times, not just in common rooms, which is absolutely possible in the vast majority of settings and situations in plants.
Line speeds should be reduced, while an increase in the number of shifts would ensure fewer workers crowd plants at a given time. Workers should also be provided with appropriate protective equipment—including the best available masks—and worksites must undergo regular deep-cleaning.
If a worker becomes sick or they need to look after a loved one, they should have access to two weeks of paid sick and family leave. And we should see greater transparency about cases connected to the workplace, more inspections to ensure worker safety and greater community health representation.
All workers should be able to work in a safe environment and have access to the essential benefits they need to care for themselves and their family members.
We ask Governor Ricketts to act on these protections and ensure companies implement these protections without delay. Together, we can help create solutions to protect our food production and our community health by keeping critical workers safe.
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Please stay safe and take care.