Meat and Poultry Processing Plants Face Risky Demands

Attorney General Frosh Leads Coalition Urging the Trump Administration to Protect the Health and Safety of Tens of Thousands of U.S. Meat and Poultry Workers

Executive Order Purporting to Keep Processing Plants Open During Pandemic Lacks Meaningful Safety Measures; Will Result in More Closures and Cost Lives

BALTIMORE, MD (May 12, 2020) ­– Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh today led a coalition of 20 attorneys general in calling for President Trump to take immediate action to ensure the health and safety of meat and poultry processing plant employees, who have been deemed essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. On April 28, Trump signed an Executive Order invoking the Defense Production Act (DPA) in an attempt to keep meat and poultry processing plants open despite widespread outbreaks of COVID-19 in these facilities. Over 10,000 cases have been tied to the plants, and 45 workers have died. The Order purports to force employees to continue working without imposing adequate and enforceable mandates to protect their health and safety.

“The conditions for workers in meat and poultry processing plants have become much more dangerous during this pandemic,” said Attorney General Frosh. “Thousands of employees have fallen ill, and lives have already been lost. The industry’s failure to protect employees and the Administration’s failure to support testing, provision of personal protective equipment, and enforcement of safety standards will continue to endanger the health and well-being of employees.”

The incidence of COVID-19 infections among meat and poultry industry workers is so severe that many plants are reporting hundreds of workers testing positive for the novel coronavirus. These clusters of infections are also devastating their surrounding communities. Yet the industry, with workplaces already considered among the most dangerous in the country, has continued to operate the plants without instituting adequate health and safety measures. Despite fast-moving disassembly lines requiring workers to stand shoulder to shoulder for hours, efforts to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) and enforce social distancing measures have been sporadic at best. Some companies also continue to impose punitive measures for employees who fall ill and are unable to work. Rather than slowing line sp