ACLU files suit against meatpacking plant over COVID-19 conditions

Stephon Johnson | 11/26/2020, midnight
Three meatpacking plant workers in Nebraska filed a federal lawsuit this week calling out their employer for working under horrid ...
Raw pork ribs PxFuel/DMCA photo

Three meatpacking plant workers in Nebraska filed a federal lawsuit this week calling out their employer for working under horrid conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The lawsuit states that the conditions puts employees and the surrounding community at risk

Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Nebraska and Scottsbluff attorney Maren Chaloupka, workers filed a lawsuit against Noah’s Ark Processors (a kosher meat company) for forcing workers to labor under less than serviceable working conditions with threats of no payment if they stayed home sick.

Among other things mentioned in the suit, the plant managers are accused of not replacing worker masks after they’re soiled with “blood, fat and sweat” forcing workers to continue their duties with half or all of their face covered. The plaintiffs are also accusing the management of not practicing social distancing with workers standing shoulder to shoulder on processing lines while not providing any onsite COVID-19 testing.

“Noah’s Ark has shown a shocking indifference to its employees and the community by failing to take common-sense steps to protect them from the spread of COVID-19,” stated Spencer Amdur, an attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Every plant should be providing these basic protections. Without them, workers and others in the community face imminent and severe harm.”

The plaintiffs in the suit also accuse plant managers of making them sit, shoulder-to-shoulder, in a windowless cafeteria maskless because they have to eat. According to workers, the plant doesn’t offer the proper sick leave that would ensure workers would stay home when they’re ill. Management have, allegedly, refused to pay anyone who stayed home because of coronavirus-related symptoms. Workers also said, in the lawsuit, that they don’t have any rules on what their employer’s sick-leave policy is.

According to a plaintiff using the pseudonym Alma to protect themselves from retribution, workers are afraid of being infected with the coronavirus, but were made—by their employers—to feel like it wasn’t a big deal.

“Even when things got more serious, they didn’t care,” stated Alma. “People were sick, but they still had to keep working. We were all worried, because everyone has kids, but not working wasn’t an option. If you stopped working, you would lose your job.

Noah’s Ark Processors aren’t new to an employee-related brouhaha. Last year, the company faced more than $180,000 in OSHA fines after more than a dozen violations were discovered. One of those violations included an employee suffering severe burns after being exposed to anhyrous ammonia (gas used as an industrial refrigerant).

According to a report by the United Food and Commercial Workers International, the largest meatpacking union in America, there have been 128 deaths and 19,800 infections due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

ACLU Attorney Rose Godinez said that the suit isn’t only about workers, health, safety and racial justice and rights, it’s about protection during the worst global pandemic in a century.

“As the daughter of retired meatpacking plant workers, I am heartbroken to see workers, their families, and our communities put in danger because of meatpacking plants’ refusal to protect essential workers from COVID-19,” said Godinez in a statement. “State and federal officials have also failed to protect these workers, so now we must turn to the courts to ensure the safe work environment that’s required by law.”