Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D-Iowa) wants to improve federal protections for essential workers and at-risk employees during the coronavirus pandemic. To do that, Finkenauer introduced legislation that would require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to create stronger safety standards for workers, protect employees from potential retaliation when reporting issues, and require employers to develop an infection control plan.
“I’m deeply worried about the safety of our essential workers at meat processing plants across the First District and across Iowa,” Finkenauer said in a statement. “Employees are contacting us directly and going to the media with stories of how inadequate safety standards inside factories are allowing this virus to spread.”
Several meat packing plants in the Midwest have had to suspend operations since the pandemic began because employees caught the virus. For example, Tyson Foods and the National Beef Packing Plant, both located in Iowa, had to temporarily stop work after more than two dozen employees fell ill, according to reports.
“Iowans are working their tails off to keep these plants open and keep food on our tables,” Finkenauer said. “We owe them the safety, dignity and peace of mind that comes with meaningful, enforceable safety standards during this historic crisis.”
The measures outlined in the legislation would make it easier for OSHA to create guidelines for employees, regardless of what industry they work in.
Before the start of the pandemic, workers in the medical field were the ones at high risk of exposure to viruses and other contagious illnesses on the job, while workers in other industries like grocery store employees or plant workers had a relatively low risk. But now any worker who has to work outside the home is at an increased risk of catching the virus, no matter the industry. Finkenauer and her colleagues argue that by creating a higher standard of health safety on the job across many industries, OSHA will be able to protect the lives of many essential workers.