Attorney General Ford, 19 States Urge Trump Administration to Protect Thousands of U.S. Meat and Poultry Workers

May 12, 2020

Executive Order Purporting to Keep Processing Plants Open During Pandemic Lacks Meaningful Safety Measures; Will Result in More Closures and Cost Lives

 Carson City, NV – Nevada Attorney General Aaron D. Ford sent a letter calling on President Trump to take immediate action to ensure the health and safety of meat and poultry processing plant employees who have been deemed essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. On April 28, President Trump signed an Executive Order invoking the Defense Production Act (DPA) in an attempt to keep meat and poultry processing plants open despite widespread outbreaks of COVID-19 in these facilities. Over 10,000 cases have been tied to the plants and 45 workers have died. The Order purports to force employees to continue to work without imposing adequate and enforceable mandates to protect their health and safety. AG Ford is joined by 19 states in this action.  

“During this pandemic, lives are on the line, and no life is more valuable than another,” said AG Ford. “While I recognize the immediate need for meat and poultry and other essential items, the Trump Administration should provide protective equipment and encourage every precaution to keep our workers safe and healthy.” 

The incidence of COVID-19 infections among meat and poultry industry workers is so severe that many plants are reporting hundreds of workers testing positive for Coronavirus. These clusters of infections also devastate the surrounding communities. Yet some processing facilities continue to operate the plants without instituting adequate health and safety measures. Despite fast-moving disassembly lines requiring workers to stand shoulder to shoulder for hours, efforts to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) and enforce social distancing measures have been sporadic and not subject to strict USDA regulation. Some companies also continue to impose punitive measures for employees who fall ill and are unable to work. Rather than slowing line speeds to enable safer working conditions, some plants have sought, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved, new line speed waivers that force employees to work faster and closer to one another.

President Trump’s Executive Order instructs the USDA to ensure processing facilities continue to operate under voluntary guidelines for promoting safe working conditions, but does not mandate these protective measures or commit to enforcing them. The attorneys general filed a letter stating that the Trump Administration must make these health and safety standards stronger, mandatory, and enforceable. Adequate measures must include: 

  • Priority testing for workers in the processing plants; 
  • Immediate access to adequate PPE; 
  • Suspension of all line speed waivers and a halt to the approval of any additional waivers;
  • Six foot physical and social distancing where possible, and plexiglass barriers where distancing cannot be achieved; and, 
  • Isolation and quarantine of COVID-19 positive workers with full pay.  

The attorneys general explain that without additional measures to protect these workers, Trump’s Executive Order will prolong the spread of illness and death and imperil its own goal of keeping the plants open. Additionally, the Order may compound the harm done by the federal government’s failure to provide assistance for COVID-19 testing and PPE by attempting to strip states’ ability to determine when or if these processing plants are safe to continue operating in order to protect the health and safety of their own workers.  

In addition to Nevada, other states participating in this letter include: California, Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin. 

The issued letter is attached