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House Adopts Waters Amendment Prohibiting USDA from Keeping Meat Packing Plants Open Despite COVID-19 Outbreaks

July 24, 2020
Press Release

House Adopts Waters Amendment Prohibiting USDA from Keeping Meat Packing Plants Open Despite COVID-19 Outbreaks

“There have been numerous outbreaks of COVID-19 in meat packing plants, due to a lack of protective gear and crowded, unsafe working conditions.  Many workers have died, and others have brought the virus home to their families.  Meat packing plants should not be allowed to operate unless they can ensure safe working conditions for all of their workers.”

WASHINGTON – Congresswoman Maxine Waters (CA-43), Chair of the House Financial Services Committee, offered an amendment to the Agriculture Appropriations bill (H.R. 7608) that was adopted by the House of Representatives yesterday that prohibits the use of funds to implement President Trump’s Executive Order 13917, which authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to use the authorities contained in the Defense Production Act to keep meat and poultry processing facilities operational during the COVID-19 emergency.  The Congresswoman’s amendment was supported by Congresswoman Alma Adams (NC-12) and endorsed by Food & Water Watch/Food & Water Action.

“There have been numerous outbreaks of COVID-19 in meat packing plants, due to a lack of protective gear and crowded, unsafe working conditions,” said Congresswoman Waters.  “Many workers have died, and others have brought the virus home to their families.  Meat packing plants should not be allowed to operate unless they can ensure safe working conditions for all of their workers.”

According to a Washington Post investigation, three of the nation’s largest meat producers — Tyson Foods, JBS USA and Smithfield Foods — failed to provide protective gear to all workers.  Some employees said they were told to continue working in crowded plants even while sick as the coronavirus spread across the United States and turned the facilities into infection hot spots.[1]

“We applaud the leadership taken by Congresswoman Maxine Waters to stop USDA's implementation of President Trump's Executive Order invoking the Defense Production Act to keep meat and poultry plants open during the COVID-19 pandemic.  These plants have been hot spots for the spread of the virus and it has infected tens of thousands of plant workers -- most of whom are people of color and immigrants --  and hundreds of USDA inspectors.  Again, this administration has placed the profits of the meatpackers above public health.  We urge the House and Senate to keep this provision in the FY 2021 Agriculture Appropriations bill,” said Tony Corbo, Sr. Government Affairs Representative for Food & Water Watch/Food & Water Action.

“As Members of Congress, one of our most solemn duties is to protect the health and safety of the American people,” said Congresswoman Adams. “I applaud Congresswoman Waters for her commitment to ensuring our nation’s meatpackers are not subjected to dangerous conditions in the workplace. As Chair of the Workforce Protections Subcommittee on the Committee of Education and Labor, I wholeheartedly supported this amendment because we cannot allow profits to be put ahead of people.”

“I appreciate my colleagues support for my amendment, which will ensure that the Trump administration cannot use the pandemic as an excuse to enable meat processing companies to further undermine working conditions, ignore the rules and guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and endanger the lives of workers, their families, and their communities,” said Congresswoman Waters.

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