Friday, April 12, 2024

Hispanic Caucus calls on administration to investigate working conditions at meat processing facilities

Latino lawmakers are urging the Trump administration to investigate working conditions for meat processing workers and issue a temporary emergency safety standard, days after the president mandated that plants reopen.

President Trump issued an executive order Tuesday requiring plants to stay open or reopen amid concerns about food shortages during the current coronavirus crisis. But multiple meat processing facilities across the country have seen the virus ravage their workforces, and Latino members of Congress led by Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas), the Congressional Hispanic Caucus chair, are concerned that some companies are heaping even more risk on workers already prone to high rates of illness.

“Numerous companies across the meatpacking industry have not taken the necessary precautions they need to protect workers,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to the administration. “While some companies were early actors in providing personal protective equipment, the callous inaction of others has reportedly led to multiple deaths and thousands of sick workers, as well as the death of two inspectors from the Department of Agriculture.”

Latinos have been hit hard by the coronavirus, representing a high number of hospitalizations and deaths compared with their share of the overall population. A disproportionate number of meatpackers are people of color and immigrants — 44 percent are Latino and 25 percent are African American, according to an analysis by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Last week, the Hispanic Caucus requested the House Education and Labor Committee open an investigation and hold a hearing on the working conditions for meat processing workers during the coronavirus pandemic. The League of United Latin American Citizens estimates 80 percent of the meat processing workforce is comprised of undocumented workers or refugees.

“The virus doesn’t ask for papers, the virus hits everybody and we need to protect them,” said LULAC president Domingo Garcia. “And by giving [workers] temporary protective status, which President Trump can do by executive order, [he can] ensure that the food continues to flow to our grocery stores.”