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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2021 - 2022 Regular Session


Posted: April 5, 2021 03:51 PM
From: Senator Christine M. Tartaglione and Sen. Judith L. Schwank
To: All Senate members
Subject: Meat Packing and Food Processing Protection Act
Based on data from a variety of sources and horrific stories from workers, food processing and meatpacking is one of the most dangerous industries in the country. In addition, this workforce is among the lowest paid in the country. Pennsylvania has over 2,300 food processing and meatpacking facilities, which account for more than $1 billion in exports annually. Despite being one of the largest and most essential workforces in Pennsylvania, these workers have virtually no protections under state law.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted just how essential these workers are - food shortages occurred throughout the nation when these facilities closed due to outbreaks. The food processing and meatpacking workforce has also been amongst the most affected during the pandemic: at least 249 meatpacking workers have died and 46,000 have contracted the coronavirus, according to tracking by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. These facilities significantly impact the health of the communities in which they are located, as well. At the beginning of the pandemic, rural counties with large meat packing facilities saw more than 10 times the prevalence of COVID-19 compared to other rural counties, according to a December 2020 USDA bulletin.
Countless investigative reports show that current federal regulations and protections are inadequate to ensure workplace safety for these essential workers. A recent court ruling here in Pennsylvania underscores this trend. U.S. District Judge Malachy E. Mannion found “serious concerns about whether the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is in fact fulfilling its duty to ensure workers' rights to 'safe and healthful working conditions.” Despite this, Judge Mannion concluded that the workers' remedy is with the legislature and not the courts.
As such, we will soon be introducing legislation that will guarantee basic protections for these workers and ensure the stability of one of Pennsylvania’s largest export industries. Often, these workers are required to work extensive hours with no guarantees of adequate break times, proper training, warnings of work-place risks, or access to paid time off. These essential workers deserve to have access to basic protections on the job. Without them, our food supply would plummet, and Pennsylvania’s economy would suffer.
Our legislation will require employers to provide adequate training, paid sick time, and access to health care in the event of a workplace injury. Additionally, our legislation will create workplace health and safety committees at each facility, which will evaluate workplace hazards and work with the employer to improve conditions.
Because of the grueling conditions and structures of worksites, standard pandemic protocols, such as those implemented due to COVID-19, do not address the extenuating circumstances present in these worksites. For example, maintaining six feet of distance would put workers at greater danger of workplace accidents and injuries. Our legislation will create industry-specific pandemic protocols for future public health emergencies that will protect the workforce, ensure safety of products to consumers, and maintain the operations of our food supply chain in Pennsylvania.
Please join us in protecting these essential workers by co-sponsoring this critical legislation. 

Introduced as SB695