Complaint may spur review of meat industry’s virus responseApril 7, 2021
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A union complaint about whether an Oklahoma meatpacking plant is doing enough to protect workers from…
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A union complaint about whether an Oklahoma meatpacking plant is doing enough to protect workers from the coronavirus could test the industry’s response to the pandemic because Seaboard Foods says it is following recommendations from the government and trade groups.
The local United Food and Commercial Workers union filed a complaint this week with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration about the Seaboard Foods pork processing plant in Guymon, Oklahoma. The union says Seaboard should be doing more to promote social distancing at the plant and to encourage workers exposed to the coronavirus to stay home from work.
The complaint offers regulators in the Biden administration an opportunity to say whether they believe the meatpacking industry is doing enough to protect workers because Seaboard officials said they have taken a number of steps similar to what other companies have done, including checking employee temperatures before work, installing plexiglass barriers between some work stations and in the cafeteria and stepping up sanitization of the plant.
Industry officials have credited those measures with slowing the spread of the virus that tore through meatpacking plants last spring and prompted many plants to close temporarily after major outbreaks.
“It well could be a good test for the administration to really address the needs of the meatpacking workers,” said Martin Rosas, president of the local union that filed the complaint. “We want OSHA to set an example to companies like Seaboard that worker safety must be a priority. Period.”
OSHA officials said they have opened an investigation into the Seaboard complaint.
In the past, the UFCW union has criticized OSHA for issuing only voluntary guidelines for the meatpacking industry last year on steps companies should take to protect workers from the virus. The industry is waiting for OSHA officials to decide this year whether to replace those guidelines with a set of mandatory requirements to protect workers from the virus. An executive order Biden signed in January directed OSHA to consider issuing federal emergency standards on workplace protections.
Labor Department spokeswoman Denisha Braxton said Wednesday that OSHA is focusing its enforcement efforts on industries where workers are at the greatest risk of getting sick with the virus, including meat production plants.
“The agency is working to continually improve our ability to protect workplaces in these critical industries where workers are in close proximity to each other,” Braxton said.
Workplace safety expert Celeste Monforton said the Oklahoma complaint and others like it offer OSHA the chance to change its approach to the virus in meatpacking plants. At least two other complaints related to COVID-19 have been filed this year about…