October 30, 2020

Warren and Booker Release Labor Department Response to Their Inquiries As Labor Denies Protections to Meatpacking Workers

Warren and Booker: OSHA is Working for Big Business, Not Workers, and Refusing to Do Its Job

DOL Response (PDF) | Letter to OSHA (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), released the following statement regarding the Department of Labor's inadequate, half-page response to their inquiry about why the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) failed to take quick and sufficient actions to enforce workplace safety laws and protect workers in meatpacking plants

"Thousands of meatpacking workers have contracted COVID-19, but OSHA waited months to issue miniscule fines, and on top of that, the agency claims that issuing an Emergency Temporary Standard to increase protections for workers during the pandemic is ‘unnecessary at this time.’ This shameful inaction makes two things clear: OSHA is working for big business, not workers, and the agency is abjectly refusing to do its job." said the lawmakers.

Earlier this year, OSHA identified violations of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act at major meatpacking facilities, Smithfield Packaged Meats Corporation in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and JBS Foods, Inc. in Greeley, Colorado. These two facilities were the sites of serious, deadly worksite and community outbreaks that sickened over 1,500 workers, killed 10, and put thousands more in their communities at risk. However, OSHA elected to issue the smallest possible fine for these companies' egregious behavior, which Senator Warren sharply criticized

In July, Senators Warren and Booker released new information from their investigation into whether Tyson Foods, JBS USA, Cargill, and Smithfield Foods used the COVID-19 pandemic - and warning of meat shortages - as cover while they failed to protect workers, dramatically increased prices for American consumers while exporting record amounts of meat abroad, and successfully lobbied the President to sign an executive order that gave them cover to continue operating in an unsafe fashion. Along with releasing the damning results of their investigation, the senators called for passing an Essential Workers Bill of Rights, which Senator Warren proposed along with Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and which includes the requirement that DOL issue an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) during the pandemic.

Senator Warren has been leading the charge to protect workers and eliminate corporate profiteering during the COVID-19 crisis:

·        Senators Warren and Booker also joined Senate Democrats asking USDA for specific safety guarantees for workers at meat processing facilities. The senators also joined Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and other Senate Democrats requesting a revision of the President's Executive Order to ensure facilities meet safety guidelines before re-opening.

·        Senator Warren, along with Senators Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-Pa.), and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), also requested that the DOL Inspector General (IG) audit OSHA's decreased investigation and enforcement activity during this pandemic, as well as their failure to promulgate an ETS. The DOL IG agreed to investigate lawmakers' concerns. 

·        Senator Warren joined a letter led by Senator Booker to retract USDA approval for meat processing facilities to increase line speed.