September 9, 2020

Rampant Covid-19 Infections & AWOL OSHA: Fighting Back Against the Exploitation of America’s Meatpacking Workers

More than 80 percent of frontline meatpacking workers are Black and Brown, more than half are immigrants, and nearly half live in families with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty line.  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has the power and the duty to protect these workers from unsafe work conditions, but during the COVID-19 pandemic and for decades prior, it has chosen not to. That decision is costing workers their lives. As experts accuse OSHA of negligence, worker advocacy groups are organizing in unprecedented ways to fight back against the government-sanctioned sacrifice of workers for profits. In July 2020, multiple worker groups filed a civil rights complaint against meat giants JBS and Tyson Foods with the U.S. Department of Agriculture arguing that the companies’ failure to prevent Covid-19 outbreaks is racial discrimination. This panel will focus on the disregard for the lives of meat-packing workers demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic and what can be done about it. 


  • Leah Douglas, Associate Editor and staff writer at the Food and Environment Reporting Network Her considerable reporting on COVID-19 includes an extensive map of outbreaks in the food system
  • Magaly Licolli, founder of Venceremos, a worker-based organization in Arkansas with a mission to ensure the human rights of poultry workers
  • Brent Newell, Food Project Senior Attorney, Public Justice - lead attorney representing workers in USDA complaint saying that meat giants Tyson and JBS are engaging in racial discrimination against their employees. 
  • Deborah Berkowitz, Worker Health and Safety Program director at the National Employment Law Project.
  • Moderated by Caroline Parker (LAW ‘22)

More information may be found here.