RELEASE: Community advocacy groups, Senator Vargas to present clear and enforceable COVID-19 protections in 2021 session

***For Immediate Release***

January 11, 2021

Contact: Magdalena Cazarez
Communications Director, Nebraska Appleseed
O: (402) 438-8853 ext 119
C: (402) 504-0074
mcazarez@neappleseed.org

Community advocacy groups, Senator Vargas to present clear and enforceable COVID-19 protections in 2021 session

Lincoln, NE — On Monday, January 11, Nebraska community advocates and Senator Tony Vargas held a virtual press conference to introduce two legislative bills, LB 241 to implement work safety protections (such as 6-foot distancing and other critical protections) and LB 258  to implement paid sick leave. Nebraskans working in the meat and poultry industry are among the hardest hit by the pandemic, and packing plants have been one of the most serious vectors for the COVID-19 virus. The goal of the legislation is to establish clear and enforceable COVID-19 protections in meat and poultry plants as well as access to basic sick leave for all Nebraskans.

Among the COVID-19 protections included in the bills for Nebraskans working in the meat and poultry industry:

  • 6-foot physical distancing in all areas of the plant, including lunch and break areas, locker rooms, and on the processing floor.
  • Basic paid sick leave so people can afford to stay home and monitor symptoms or care for family members with symptoms.
  • Appropriate protective equipment, including adequate masks.
  • Effective screening and quarantine practices. 
  • Transparency about positive cases.
  • Inspections and enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance with best practices and workers’ safety.

 

Senator Tony Vargas, District 7:

“It’s been nearly a year since the start of this pandemic and we’re still here fighting for basic protections, fair treatment, and common decency for the meatpacking workers our government has deemed essential. I am proud to have introduced LB 241 on their behalf and will continue to fight with everything I have to ensure it passes.”

Darcy Tromanhauser, Immigrants & Communities Program Director, Nebraska Appleseed

“For many months community, worker, and public health groups from across the state have urged critical COVID-19 protections for Nebraskans working in meat and poultry plants who are our family members, friends, and neighbors. Unfortunately, in an industry with a decades-long track record of alarmingly high rates of injury, effective COVID protections still do not exist and conditions are even getting worse – with dangerous crowding, insufficient masks, and pressure to work while sick. We look forward to working with senators to create protections and basic sick leave to keep our communities safe.”

Gladys Godinez, Community Organizer, Center for Rural Affairs

“Workers continue to lack enough personal protective equipment, or PPE, have enough space for social distancing and continue to worry about what is going to happen to them. They worry because nobody is communicating with them about the exposure of COVID-19 within the plant let alone outside of the plant. I have shared before that I am a daughter of retired packing plant workers. I have the ability to sit here and share that my parents are not in danger on a daily basis because they don’t work at the plant anymore. That is not the case for a lot of packing plant workers and their families.

I will continue to ask the corporations, our local officials, state senators, and the governor to take care of our essential workers at packing plants. The numbers continue to increase statewide and packing plant workers have been front and center in this epidemic.” 

Micky Devitt, Legal and Policy Coordinator, Heartland Workers Center

“It is past time for enforceable safety standards reflecting CDC and OSHA best practices, including proper spacing, adequate masks, quarantine protocols, and transparency about positive cases. It is past time for all workers to have the right to paid sick leave when they or their family members fall ill. That is what these bills provide.  Importantly, the Meatpacking Employees COVID-19 Protection Act responds to concerns that setting standards without creating enforcement mechanisms would be a wasted exercise. Under these bills, employers will be required to abate hazards or face real financial consequences. During a time where all Nebraskans are making sacrifices, and meatpackers are increasing profits while other businesses struggle to keep their doors open, this is not too much to ask.”

Dulce Castañeda, Co-founder, Children of Smithfield

“Nebraskans deserve more oversight of the meat-packing industry. More needs to be done to protect the people who have worked tirelessly to put food on our tables.

Today we call upon our elected officials to help implement enforceable safety standards and legislation that will protect our families and prevent them from senselessly falling ill or dying.”

Susan L. Martin, President/Secretary-Treasurer, Nebraska State AFL-CIO

“Currently there are over 20,000 workers employed by over 12 meatpacking plants in Nebraska. These workers are critical to the “food supply chain” and it is incumbent upon the State of Nebraska to make sure they are protected and healthy during this health crisis.  The legislation being introduced by Senator Vargas is asking for basic protections and enforcement to ensure that these workers are safe.  We have a crisis.  We need our State Legislators’ support to keep ourselves and our families safe during this crisis.  Nebraska needs to take matters into their own hands and pass meaningful legislation to protect our workers in the meatpacking industry and by protecting these workers we stop the spread of Covid-19, or any future diseases.”

Eric Reeder, President, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 293

I’d like to talk about where we’re headed. Without some kind of legislation, this issue is going to get worse. Without legislation sickness is going to climb. All major plants have said they plan to roll back many of the limited and inconsistent COVID practices that exist now as the vaccine rolls out. If we’re committed to essential workers and our food supply we need protections in place now.”

Rose Godinez, Legal and Policy Counsel, ACLU of Nebraska

“Too many of our family members and neighbors have to put their health at risk just by showing up to work every day; it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s past time for the state to implement commonsense, pandemic-specific protections for our essential workers while our state’s health leaders work to ensure every Nebraskan, regardless of immigration status, has access to the vaccine.” 

Graham Christensen, President of GC Resolve

“We call on our State Senators to intervene and immediately pass legislation that will improve the standards for the essential workers who have such a vital role in getting the farmers’ food to your kitchen table.”  

Denise Bowyer, Mothers and Others, Justice and Mercy for Immigrants

“It is time to protect our essential packing plant workers’ health and lives. Implement enforceable safety measures. The clock is ticking.”

Please refer to our virtual packet for Nebraska worker stories.

 

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