Unicameral discusses COVID-19 protections for meat-packing plants

Powerful testimony Thursday out of Lincoln where meatpacking workers called on Nebraska lawmakers for more protections.
Published: Aug. 6, 2020 at 1:47 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 6, 2020 at 3:32 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The Nebraska Legislature is discussing an amendment Thursday that would require COVID-19 protective measures be taken in meat-processing plants across the state.

Introduced by Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas, AM3238 proposes changes to LB667 in order to require meat-packing employers to provide proper social distancing, regular disinfecting, and paid sick leave to those who contract the COVID-19.

The amendment also calls for meatpacking companies to track coronavirus-related deaths and positive cases daily at each of its facilities, and report those numbers to the state on a weekly basis.

Approximately 50 people came to the hearing Thursday to testify; a maximum of 20 were allowed in at a time to testify. One of those testifying was Christian Munoz. 6 News spoke with Munoz prior to his testimony, as he held a large photo of his father who passed away after contracting Covid-19.

“He was as singer and he had an album and he was in the middle of another one,” said Munoz, noting his father passed away just before he himself became a father.

“I feel what happened to my dad was wrong and I’m here to the spread the message, so this won’t happen to someone else’s father,” said Munoz.

Munoz and his father worked side-by-side at the Tyson plant in Dakota City. He told 6 News people are afraid to speak out about the working conditions. 

“These big corporations have so much power and you’re afraid to speak up and speak out because they might get sued or something,” said Munoz.

It was a feeling echoed by those testifying in front of lawmakers Thursday. They spoke of cramped quaters and dirty protective gear. 

“There’s not safety. The lockers for the women, everybody’s smooshed,” said Graciela Billington, who works inside the JBS plant in Grand Island. “Like they’re all together, I’ve seen it today.”

The committee went on to hear more testimony from workers, some via a translator, who recounted struggles faced inside the facilities, from a lack of information about positive cases to failing PPE to an absence of sanitary protocols. Some also accused the processing plant companies of basic OSHA violations.

In order for LB667 to become law it still has to be voted out of committee and then go to floor for debate. If it gets enough votes it then lands on the governor’s desk for the final say.  

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