A group of 29 Democratic senators led by U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, raised concerns on Friday about President Donald Trump’s Executive Order to keep meat processing plants open.
In a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, the senators outlined recommendations for ways the Trump Administration should improve worker safety.
“While we recognize the importance of keeping these plants running, it is wrong and shortsighted to use the Defense Production Act to mandate plants to stay open without effectively addressing worker safety issues,” wrote the Senators.
The Senators urged USDA to ensure that meatpacking plants take action to protect worker safety before opening, including reconfiguring plants for social distancing, providing appropriate personal protective equipment, instituting ongoing testing, ensuring that infected employees are not coming to work, and making other necessary changes to keep workers safe.
On May 8, Perdue applauded the safe reopening of critical infrastructure meatpacking facilities across the U.S. in a USDA release.
These meatpacking facilities have resumed operations this week, directing the facilities to implement the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines specifically created for the meat and poultry sector response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the release said.
USDA, in conjunction with the CDC and state and local health officials, has been working around the clock to ensure a safe and stable supply of protein is available for American consumers all while keeping employees safe.
“President Trump took decisive action last week to ensure America’s meatpacking facilities reopen in a safe way to ensure America’s producers and ranchers will be able to bring their product to market,” said Secretary Perdue in the release. “I want to thank the patriotic and heroic meatpacking facility workers who are returning to work this week so the millions of Americans who depend on them for food security can continue to do so.”
In the letter to Perdue, the senators asked USDA to:
· Create localized working groups for individual plants that include USDA, CDC, OSHA, companies, union representatives, workers and appropriate state and local authorities to implement plans to safely reopen and ensure all issues are addressed.
· Advocate for the creation of a White House-led office of supply chain coordination as recommended by 20 key organizations.
· Ensure that all meat processing facilities operate in accordance with the OSHA and CDC guidance for meat and poultry processing employees.
· Clarify that the President’s Executive Order does not require meat processing plants to stay open, and the plants should only operate in accordance with the OSHA and CDC guidelines and any other requirements from state or local authorities.
· Use the Defense Production Act and other contracting authorities to access and produce personal protective equipment and testing.
· Urge OSHA to vigorously enforce the OSHA and CDC guidance under the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act at meat and poultry processing plants.
· Urge U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia to immediately issue and enforce an OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard that requires employers to protect their workers from the spread of COVID-19 in workplaces.
In addition to Senator Stabenow, the letter was signed by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Robert Casey (D-Penn.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), and Gary C. Peters (D-Mich.)