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Nebraska labor orgs seek more protections for meatpackers

Published: Jul. 28, 2020 at 4:15 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Nebraska state labor organizations along with other advocacy groups are asking for legislation to protect frontline workers in the meatpacking industry.

Organizers held a demonstration on the steps of the state capitol Tuesday afternoon, telling lawmakers they believe a workplace safety crisis exists in the meatpacking industry.

Protesters said COVID-19 has changed the reality of immigrant workers in the packing houses.

“My father on Friday had a heart attack at work. He had to wait 45 minutes to get attention,” said Maury Vasquez.

He worked in a packing plant with his father for three years, who has worked at the same plant for more than 25 years. Now Vasquez’s father is in the hospital.

“He suffered from both a stroke and a heart attack working at the plant. When that did happen, we had no contact with him for four hours -- no one could get a hold of us,” he said.

Dozens of people stood in front of the Nebraska State Capitol, demanding safe working conditions for essential workers in the states packing houses.

Demonstrators say they especially need more than federal guidelines to protect workers from COVID-19.

“We need to pass protections for them,” said Sue Martin, President of the Nebraska State AFL-CIO. “We need to make sure these protections are enforced and so we are not getting this done at a national level, so we’re looking to our state senators to do something to help.”

Demonstrators want paid sick leave for those who test positive for the virus, more protective gear, social distancing and testing.

Nebraska State Sen. Tony Vargas (7th District) has been very open about the fact that COVID-19 claimed the life of his father.

Vargas told the crowd he would fight to give packing house workers a voice and fight for safer working conditions.

“I’m asking my colleagues to stand with me and suspend the rules so that we can introduce a bill so we can have a hearing. So we can make sure to take that step forward to protect workers now,” Vargas said. “We almost feel taken advantage of, just because a lot of these people are immigrants. Like I was saying, they’re not going to stand up for what they think is right, they’re just here to work. They want to provide for their family.”

Nebraska lawmakers would have to move quickly to introduce legislation to help protect the states meatpackers as there are 10 days left in the Nebraska Legislature’s current session.

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