Meatpacking Workers Claim OSHA Should Do More to Protect Them During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Friends of Farmworkers, also known as Justice at Work, and additional unnamed plaintiffs claimed in a response filed on Tuesday in the Pennsylvania Middle District that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is “unwilling to take action” to protect the workers from the dangers of not taking proper precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

They claimed that the conditions at Maid-Rite Specialty Foods, a Scranton, Pennsylvania meatpacking plant, were creating a health hazard and that OSHA and the Department of Labor should issue a citation. The plaintiffs said that “this court’s intervention to require OSHA to protect these workers from the risk of COVID-19 remains essential.” 

The plaintiffs purported that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has reportedly emphasized the importance of physical distancing, but OSHA has instead shown that it is “willing to ignore that guidance and the science” by not requiring the meatpacking plant to make changes and allowing the workers to be in conditions which could cause death or physical harm. 

The filing was a response to a letter to the court sent on December 2 by OSHA, saying that it concluded its investigation into the meatpacking plant and was not going to issue a citation. The organization did send a hazard alert letter to Maid-Rite encouraging the company to use the suggested social distancing practices on its meat processing lines. 

The complaint in the matter was filed in July and alleged that around half of the workforce at the plant contracted COVID-19 because of the relaxed social distancing practices at the facility. Maid-Rite claimed that it did provide face coverings, shields, and other protective equipment. 

The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys with Towards Justice, Public Justice P.C., Nichols Kaster PLLP, and Friends of Farmworkers, Inc. OSHA and the United States Department of Labor are represented by the Department of Justice.