Attorney General Becerra Criticizes Reckless Federal Executive Order Forcing Meat and Poultry Workers to Work Without Adequate Protections During COVID-19
SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today joined a coalition of 20 attorneys general calling on President Trump to provide meaningful protections for meat and poultry processing plant workers forced to work in extremely unsafe conditions by the President’s executive order invoking the Defense Production Act. Workers are risking their lives during a pandemic to maintain production in these facilities. In a letter to the President, the coalition calls on the Trump Administration to take immediate action to ensure the safety of these essential workers.
"As our nation confronts this crisis, the health and security of workers hangs in the balance. Our fight for public safety, workers' rights, and economic fairness has never been as critical as it is right now," said Attorney General Becerra. "If the President wants to force workers to toil away in extremely unsafe conditions, then he must enforce the protections they deserve. It is unacceptable to expect working families to bear the burden of this crisis alone. We all must do our part to stand up for our collective health and safety, and that starts at the top."
Without adequate and enforceable mandates to protect worker safety, President Trump’s executive order will perpetuate the spread of illness and death from COVID-19. COVID-19 outbreaks in the nation’s meat and poultry processing operations are dire and escalating. Recent reports indicate that infection clusters at 40 plants have been so severe they have been required to close, with some reporting hundreds of employees falling ill. The executive order demands that meat and poultry processing plants remain open and operate in a manner consistent with guidance issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. However, even if these recommendations were sufficient to maintain worker safety at processing plants, they are entirely voluntary. Without making these standards mandatory and taking decisive action to enforce them, the Trump Administration will fail in its duty to provide meaningful protection to workers essential to maintaining the country’s food supply. As a result, thousands more will likely fall victim to COVID-19, thwarting efforts to keep the plants open.
In the letter, the coalition urges the Trump Administration to, at a minimum, mandate:
- Priority testing for essential workers impacted by the executive order;
- Immediate access to adequate personal protective equipment;
- The suspension of all line speed waivers, and a halt to approval of any additional waivers;
- Six-foot physical distancing where possible, and plexiglass barriers where distancing cannot be achieved; and
- Isolation and quarantine of workers who test positive for COVID-19, with full pay.
The Defense Production Act is an important tool that presidents since the Korean War have wielded to protect the country and keep Americans safe from threats to national security and public health. Since the onset of this crisis, many have urged more initiative, leadership, and use of the law to increase production of critically needed testing supplies and personal protective equipment that are vital to the country’s efforts to control this pandemic. Yet the President’s executive order, rather than compelling production of the supplies necessary to keep workers safe, invokes the Defense Production Act to force them to show up for work regardless. As a result, workers are being forced to risk their own health or give up their jobs. In the letter, the coalition asserts that we cannot sacrifice the health and safety of hard-working people whose labor helps ensure we can continue feeding the country.
Attorney General Becerra is committed to protecting the rights of workers in California and across the country. Last week, Attorney General Becerra and the City Attorneys of Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco sued Uber and Lyft for allegedly misclassifying drivers as independent contractors, robbing them of critical workplace protections like paid sick leave and unemployment insurance. Last month, the Attorney General co-led a multistate amicus brief in support of the federal government’s authority to take action against employment discrimination by federal contractors. In March, he urged the Trump Administration to halt implementation of a rule on joint employers that threatens to undermine the ability of workers to collect wages they are owed. And, in light of COVID-19, Attorney General Becerra called on Amazon and Whole Foods to step up efforts to protect workers by providing adequate paid sick leave. Information to help protect Californians against scams and price gouging during COVID-19 is available here: https://oag.ca.gov/consumers/COVID-19.
In sending the letter, Attorney General Becerra joins the attorneys general of Maryland, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.
A copy of the letter is available here.