Ninety-five food, labor, and environmental organizations, including OrganicEye, are calling for swift action to ensure workers’ and communities’ health and safety.

HEAL Food Alliance and Food Chain Workers Alliance are proud to unite with our allies in solidarity with frontline food workers. Below is an open letter calling on the Department of LaborOSHA, and our Congressional members to ensure the protection of workers’ lives and livelihoods are protected. 


Eugene Scalia, U.S. Secretary of Labor 

Loren Sweatt, Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor  

Our Congressional Members  

Re: Stop Sacrificing Meatpacking Workers Lives 

“It is profoundly disturbing that President Trump is using his authority to force workers into dangerous conditions without providing enforceable safety standards to protect them from COVID-19.”  –  House Labor and Education Committee Chairman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-03)

 Dear Secretary Scalia, Assistant Secretary Sweatt, and our Congressional Members 

On April 28th, the Trump Administration announced it would invoke the Defense Production Act to compel meatpacking companies to stay open during the pandemic. We, the undersigned organizations, are alarmed at this extraordinary measure, which, in our view, demonstrates that the health and safety and the very lives of meatpacking workers are secondary to keeping the economy open for profit.  

This executive order could impact 194,000 processing workers around the country who are still on the job. Reports from the ground tell us that workers—the majority of whom are immigrants and workers of color—are still at grave risk. Meatpacking plants are not practicing social distancing, not providing adequate PPE to workers, and are not sufficiently sanitizing plants to limit exposure to risk. 

“Sending meatpacking workers back to work without protections and mandatory standards is sending workers to die or to get sick,” says Axel Fuentes of the Rural Community Workers Alliance (RCWA). RCWA has filed a lawsuit against a Smithfield plant in an effort to force the company to protect workers’ health and safety. “If we have to fight in courts to make only one plant provide safety equipment to workers, can you imagine what will be required to compel other employers to act?”

Reports show that over 5,000 meat processing workers have tested positive for the virus and at least 20 workers have died due to COVID-19 exposure. Over 100 USDA inspectors have also tested positive. These deaths could have been prevented and are a tragic failure of government oversight to ensure workplace health and safety. House Labor and Education Committee Chairman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott highlighted this in his April 28 statement, “If President Trump orders people to work in meat processing plants but refuses to protect their health and safety, the result will be more preventable illnesses [and] the tragic deaths of workers across the country.”

Furthermore, we understand this measure and Trump’s remarks are intended to give companies the message that they will be protected from liability. This message was reinforced in an April 28th statement by the Occupational and Safety Health Administration (OSHA). This tells workers and neighboring communities that if their health and safety rights are violated they will have little recourse to improve their situation, effectively intimidating workers from protecting themselves. Furthermore, workers who are opting to stay home to protect their health and the health of their families are being told they will be denied unemployment benefits. This is a clear tactic of intimidation and retaliation. 

OSHA has also failed to ensure workers are protected from the virus and its impacts, refusing to issue mandatory health and safety standards for employers that require companies to protect frontline food chain workers and other workers at risk. With the refusal to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard, OSHA has allowed companies to continue to evade responsibility for worker deaths and exposure to illness.

 At a time when frontline workers still do not have basic health and safety workplace protections and are dying on the job, we must strengthen worker protections–not weaken them.  A failure to act will result in the needless loss of more lives, and more family members mourning their loved ones in communities across the country. As regulatory agency leadership and public servants, it is your civil duty to do everything within your authority to ensure workers are kept safe in the workplace.

 In solidarity with all frontline food workers—many of whom are taking courageous action to organize for better protections on the job—we urge you to take immediate action by committing to the following: 

1.       OSHA must issue and enforce an Emergency Temporary Standard to protect food workers and all essential workers from COVID-19. 

2.       Congress must immediately pass legislation to:

·         Compel OSHA to issue an enforceable Emergency Temporary Standard—as is laid out in H.R. 6559—and provide OSHA with commensurate funds to implement this mandate. 

·         Mandate employers to provide premium pay at a minimum of time and half to all workers given the increasingly hazardous, deadly conditions. 


Sending workers into unsafe workplaces without adequate protection is completely unacceptable and will lead to more illness and deaths, both for workers, and for surrounding communities. Food workers are not disposable. Public health must be a priority over profits. 

 We expect that you will take swift action to ensure workers’ and communities’ health and safety.

 Thank you, 

Agricultural Justice Project 

Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network 

Artisan Grain Collaborative 

Better Food Foundation 

Black Zocalo 

Calypso Farm 

Castanea Fellowship 

Center for Popular Research, Education and Policy 

Chesapeake FoodShed Network 

Chicago Food Policy Action Council 

Coalition for Valley Neighborhoods 

Coastal Enterprises, Inc. 

Common Market

Community Food Advocates 

Corporate Accountability 

Dakota Resource Council 

Dakota Rural Action 

Domestic Fair Trade Association

DC Greens 

Ecological Farming Association 

Edible Alaska 

Environmental Working Group 

Family Farm Defenders 

Farm Aid 

Farm Forward 

Farms to Grow, Inc. 

Fertile Acres 

Food & Water Watch 

Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT) 

Food Chain Workers Alliance 

Food Empowerment Project 

Food First 

Food Industry Employment Program

Food Policy Council of San Antonio 

Food Sleuth, LLC

Food System 6 

Friends of the Earth 

Gallatin Valley Farm to School 

Greenpeace USA

Green State Solutions 

Health, Environment, Agriculture, Labor (HEAL) Food Alliance 

Health Care Without Harm 

Idaho Organization of Resource Councils 

Indiana Farmers Union 

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy 

Italian Inspirations 

Jefferson County Food Policy Council 

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future 

La Semilla Food Center 

Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy, Teachers College Columbia University

League of Conservation Voters

Missouri Coalition for the Environment

National Black Food and Justice Alliance

National Farm to School Network

NC Environmental Justice Network

Nell Newman Foundation

Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT)

Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Hampshire

Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY)

Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG)

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) 

Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association

One Fair Wage

Open Markets Institute

Organic Consumers Association

Organic Growers School

Organic Planet LLC


Oxfam America

Pesticide Action Network

Pinnacle Prevention

Pittsburgh Food Policy Council

Positive Women’s Network

Pot Pie Factory, Inc.

Race Forward

Real Food Media

Real Food Generation 

Rural Advancement Foundation International – USA

Sacramento Food Policy Council

Slow Food Club University of Vermont

Slow Food USA

Socially Responsible Agricultural Project

The Taft Organization

Tucson CSA

Union of Concerned Scientists

United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE)

Virginia Association for Biological Farming

Wallace Center at Winrock International

Western Colorado Alliance

Western Organization of Resource Councils

Whitestone Mountain Orchard


Western New York Council on Occupational Safety and Health (WNYCOSH) 

World Animal Protection