Staff Editorial

Iowa is leaving thousands of workers vulnerable to COVID-19

In this April 2020, photo provided by Tyson Foods, workers wear protective masks and stand between plastic dividers at t
In this April 2020, photo provided by Tyson Foods, workers wear protective masks and stand between plastic dividers at the company's Camilla, Georgia poultry processing plant. Tyson has added the plastic dividers to create separation between workers because of the coronavirus outbreak. (Tyson Foods via AP)

It took Iowa officials nine days to respond to a complaint at a Tyson meatpacking plant in Perry, which alleged that social distancing measures were impossible to follow and that employees worked “elbow to elbow,” the Associated Press reported. On April 11, the complaint filed online reached the Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration, who waited nine days to reach out to Tyson, who in turn, waited another eight days to respond, according to state records.

Regulators sat on complaint as outbreak at Iowa pork plant grew

Tyson addressed AP’s report with documents showing it responded two days after being informed of the complaint. But that doesn’t explain OSHA’s initial slow-motion response.

The slow response allowed the infection to turn into a full blown outbreak and several hundred people at the plant contracted the virus.

In her news conferences, Iowa’s Gov. Reynold’s has defended the agency, stating that they followed proper protocols. But if waiting as a highly contagious and deadly virus sweeps through a factory, endangering the lives of hundreds, is proper protocol, we need new protocols.

Iowa is failing to protect food chain workers against COVID-19

If this was the right way to handle the complaint then that process absolutely needs to change.

If, as Reynolds has stated, we need to learn to live with the virus, then state agencies must respond more quickly and efficiently to complaints from workers and hold companies accountable.

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Right now there are outbreaks across Iowa because of these companies and corporations, who only took precautions when forced to and only then after it was too late. On May 5, the Iowa Department of Public Health announced 730 workers at the Perry plant tested positive for coronavirus.

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Additionally, the online form the complaint was filed through has been removed from the state’s OSHA website, leaving vulnerable workers with no way to anonymously warn about health and safety violations.

This virus is not going away, especially not now as the state continues to open up businesses. If that’s the case, the state must work to protect the essential workers who cannot stay home and the workers who are made vulnerable by the companies that employ them.

OSHA must open up for online complaints and the state needs better protocols and processes for holding companies who house large outbreaks accountable for their practices.

(319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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