Meatpacking workers in Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit against the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for failing to protect essential workers from COVID-19.

The lawsuit accuses OSHA of leaving workers in dangerous conditions that could expose them to the coronavirus. The complaint asserts that the factory, run by Maid-Rite Specialty Foods, did not supply adequate protective gear nor impose social distancing. It also claimed the factory failed to separate sick employees and tell other employees about infections; instead, the company allegedly offered bonuses to workers for coming to work, even while sick.

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The lawsuit calls out OSHA for not adequately responding to the complaints, and it hopes to compel the agency to better protect workers amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

David Seligman, executive director of the worker legal group Towards Justice, is one of the two attorneys who filed the lawsuit in Pennsylvania federal court. Regarding the lawsuit, he said, “This is because of the federal government’s failure to step in here. We hope that the lawsuit spurs OSHA into action for these workers. Every day they go to work, they’re in imminent danger. If the virus were to enter the facility, there’s every reason to believe that it could cause death.”

This is not the first complaint to OSHA regarding its handling of COVID workplace safety standards. The agency has been inundated with complaints from a range of workers including meatpackers, supermarket greeters, and fast-food workers.

Meatpacking plants have become major hot spots for COVID-19. According to a ProPublica review, more than 33,000 coronavirus cases have been tied to meat and poultry plants, and at least 132 meatpacking workers have died.

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In addition to OSHA’s failings, meat companies themselves have also been sued for failing to protect their workers by not enforcing safety measures or providing protective gear. Without preventive measures, cases in meatpacking plants are likely to increase due to the enclosed environments, tight processing lines, and unsanitary conditions particular to this line of work.

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