Nebraska's Essential Meatpacking Workers Still at Risk
Monday, May 11, 2020
OMAHA, Neb. -- Many Nebraska meatpacking workers, who stand side by side in cool, virus-preserving conditions, are reporting that the meat they process is more valuable than their lives.
According to Douglas County's health director, 70% of COVID-19 infections involving two or more people have been linked to the area's nine meatpacking plants.
Abbie Kretz, lead organizer at Heartland Workers Center, says she understands the need to protect the nation's food supply.
"But at the same time, these workers are working in close quarters, and whereas some companies are trying to take the necessary precautions and recommendations by the CDC, not all are doing it," she states. "And we still have workers becoming infected."
President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order to prevent plants from closing and keep food supply chains moving.
Kretz' group is calling on Gov. Pete Ricketts to move beyond voluntary compliance and demand that plants install uniform safety protocols recommended by health experts. They include social distancing, adequate sanitation and personal protection equipment, and testing, along with paid medical leave so sick workers can stay home and not lose their job.
Kretz says she worries that plant managers don't understand that there is a life and family behind each worker considered an essential employee, many of whom are immigrants and refugees. She is hopeful that the pandemic has made it clear that everyone is connected, and everyone should be treated as a valued member of the community.
"But it can no longer be this 'us versus them' mentality," she stresses. "And I think once we can begin to see ourselves as one Nebraska, we can actually stand in solidarity with each other and say that these actions need to take place for the benefit of all."
In Nebraska and across the U.S., minority populations have been disproportionately affected by the novel coronavirus.
A recent Live Well Nebraska magazine report showed nearly 70% of all confirmed COVID-19 cases in Douglas County were people of color.
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