Nebraska senator introduces legislation to better protect meatpacking staff

A Nebraska State Senator is introducing new legislation that would better protect those working in Nebraska meat packing facilities.

In a zoom press conference Monday morning, Senator Tony Vargas announced the “Meatpacking Employees COVID-19 Protection Act.”

Vargas says the legislation would better protect workers by ensuring 6-feet of distance between employees and giving them access to PPE, hand washing stations, and temperature checks. The bill would also include paid sick leave for employees who do contract the virus and ensure no penalties for those who do get sick. Finally, the measure would also require better transparency from plants for recording and reporting cases. Violations of the protection act could result in hefty fines, at least $5,000 for each, according to Vargas.

Sen. Vargas says employees at meatpacking plants are essential employees, but they’re being treated as though they’re expendable. “It’s beyond time, it’s way past time for lawmakers to do something to protect these workers,” he said. “I’m proud to be introducing this bill on their behalf and on behalf of the stories we heard today and all those fighting to elevate their voice, I will continue to fight with everything have to ensure that this measure passes.”

Nebraska’s meatpacking plants have been hit hard by the virus outbreak. To date, from the data that is known, more than 6,700 positive cases have been reported, along with 249 hospitalizations and 26 deaths.

The president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 293, Eric Reeder, says without this kind of legislation, the sickness that’s running rampant in the plants will only get worse. “If we’re really committed to protecting the workforce and the essential workers in the plants and the food supply, we need something in place now,” said Reeder. “I don’t think you can afford to wait 2 or 3 months down the road before you do something to help the people that are in these plants.”

Reeder said he’s also worried that because the vaccine is being rolled out, plants will start to roll back their COVID-19 measures too soon and bring back high-risk employees.

(Photo by the the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature)

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