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Lawsuit Filed Against Processing Plant Over Lack of Virus Protections

— December 7, 2020

American Civil Liberties Union files a lawsuit on behalf of employees at beef processing plant for failing to take coronavirus precautions.

A lawsuit has been filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Nebraska and attorney Maren Chaloupka on behalf of former employees and a pediatrician against Noah’s Ark, a beef processing plant in Hastings for allegedly refusing to take public health precautions against COVID-19 to protect its employees.  The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring “physical distancing, clean masks, sick leave and testing.”

According to the filing, “Officials have refused to enforce laws that require safe working conditions in Nebraska’s meatpacking plants, where essential workers are predominantly Latinx and Black.  To date, there has been no enforcement action against any Nebraska meatpacking plant.”  The ACLU claims further, “Plaintiff Alma (a pseudonym) said workers have been terrified that they are going to get COVID-19, but Noah’s Ark management has made it seem like it was no big deal and said that fears about the pandemic were simply nonsense.”

The virus quickly spread throughout the plant and more and more employees exhibit symptoms as they were forced to work in a confined space without PPE.  The anonymous plaintiff added, “Even when things got more serious, they didn’t care.  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.”

Lawsuit Filed Against Processing Plant Over Lack of Virus Protections
Photo by Leonardo Carvalho on Unsplash

The plant and its policies of putting profits above its employees’ health has been deemed a public nuisance by those bringing the lawsuit because the” transmission of COVID-19 within and outside the plant would cause widespread disease, hospitalizations, and death, not only among Noah’s Ark workers, but also their family members and members of the public with whom they interact.”

In its filing, the ACLU said Noah’s Ark has been negligent in the following areas: “The plant does not promptly replace workers’ masks when they become soiled with blood, fat, and sweat, forcing workers to leave part or all of their face uncovered; The plant has made no effort to physically distance workers from one another while they are in the plant.  Every day, they stand shoulder to shoulder for hours at a time on the processing lines, and they sit crowded together in a small windowless cafeteria where they cannot wear masks while eating; The plant does not offer adequate sick leave to ensure that sick workers can stay home.  It has pressured sick people to work, allowed others to keep working despite symptoms, and refused to pay many who have stayed home because of symptoms.  It has not announced sick-leave policies to its workers; Noah’s Ark is not providing any onsite testing, so when there is a surge in cases, the plant and its workers will have no idea until it is too late.”

“This case is about racial justice and workers’ rights, health, and safety,” said Rose Godinez, an attorney at the ACLU. “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. 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.”


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