Plea for Protection at Crete Meatpacking Plant

May 2, 2020, 8:19 p.m. ·

Two protestors hold up handwritten signs in a parking lot.
Demonstrators outside Smithfield Foods plant in Crete in 2020. (Archive photo)

Dozens of people pleaded for protection of workers at a Smithfield Foods meatpacking plant in Crete, Nebraska on Saturday.

Smithfield said earlier this week it would shut the plant after tens of COVID-19 cases emerged at the plant, but later said it would remain open, according to Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts.

The reversal came as President Donald Trump issued an executive order declaring meat plants part of the critical infrastructure of the United States, and protecting companies from liability claims. Despite that, Tyson Foods shut down a major pork processing plant in Dakota City, Nebraska.

OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, also issued a long-awaited set of federal meatpacking safety guidelines. According to workers and union officials, those too seem to be aimed at giving plants more flexibility instead of regulating safety policies.

Thousands of meatpacking workers across the nation have been sickened by the coronavirus: according to a recent CDC report, at over 500 workers in Nebraska have fallen ill at 12 plants. And given how plants run, employees must work in close conditions on fast-moving production lines.

Demonstrators in Crete carried signs including "Don't blame workers", "Our parents are essential, not dispensable," and "Full pay during part-time shutdown."

Workers and family members said they wanted to see a shutdown for deep cleaning, more comprehensive sick pay policies for workers, and more personal protective equipment (PPE). According to several workers and their children at the protest, Smithfield has been giving workers single-use masks and face shields to wear for a week.

In a statement on its website, Smithfield said "We are doing everything in our power to help protect our team members from COVID-19 in the workplace and educating employees about how to protect themselves outside of work."