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Meatpacking workers testify on plant conditions in Nebraska Legislative hearing

Posted at 6:22 PM, Aug 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-06 19:22:33-04

LINCOLN, Neb. (KMTV) — Senator Tony Vargas has faced a reality many Americans have faced since the pandemic hit. His father passed away from the coronavirus this spring.

As have some of his south Omaha constituents, many of whom were working in meat processing plants.

“It shouldn't take somebody getting a virus or somebody, a loved one, being in a hospital, or dying for this to feel like it’s a problem,” says Vargas.

He's pushing an amendment to a bill that would make conditions safer.

It would require these facilities to give out masks, screen every employee daily, give sick leave for those needing to quarantine, contact trace throughout their workforce, make that data public and allow the Department of Labor inspect the plants.

Making these issues law is something Governor Pete Ricketts has resisted.

“The executive branch hasn’t done anything, we’re the only body that can do something about this,” says Vargas.

Dozens of people testified for the bill, many of them mentioning masks.

“Nobody comes to replace face masks, because by 10 in the morning, the face mask is all wet and covered in blood,” says former plant worker, Araiz Noreno.

Union leader Eric Reeder says the employees just get one mask per day.

“The employers are telling you that they’re giving plenty of masks and they are issuing masks but they’re not replacing them as needed,” says Reeder.

Others like Graciela Billington, who worked at JBS, says the state needs better inspections.

“JBS took the OSHA people into parts where it was really clean. I was really disappointed with them, because they’re supposed to take the OSHA everywhere so they can see how much they take care of people.”

No opponents testified in the three-plus hour hearing on Thursday.