President Trump’s executive order keeping meat plants open during the COVID-19 pandemic is a further threat to the health of the women and men who produce our food. The order would gut any incentive that companies do the right thing to protect the workforce, and instead push risks onto workers.
By invoking the Defense Production Act, the order would deny workers their day in court even if they get sick as a result of employer negligence.
By its failure to provide adequate personal protective equipment and to assure social distancing, the meat industry already tried ignoring the risks of COVID and workers paid the price, in at least 17 cases, with their lives. Forcing workers to come back into work will only spread the virus further.
This is certainly no time to offer special favors absolving the industry from its legal responsibilities to its workers.
To help ensure both worker safety and the continuity of the food supply, the administration should require that meat and poultry plants enforce social distancing, install workstation dividers where distancing is impractical, provide masks and other personal protective equipment, and most importantly, provide paid sick leave to workers.
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