Meat packers are essential; protect them | Staff editorial
The Nebraska legislature sent a terrible message Tuesday to the thousands of people who work in meat packing plants across the state, rejecting a bill that would have required coronavirus protections to be maintained for another year.
The bill, sponsored by State Senator Tony Vargas of Omaha, made little headway in the first vote, but it was already evident by then that there would not be enough support to overcome a veto from Governor Pete Ricketts.
An estimated 7,382 Nebraska meat packing workers have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. A total of 256 were hospitalized and 28 died.
At the start of the pandemic, several meat-packing towns in Nebraska, including Grand Island, were considered coronavirus hotspots. When it became clear that meat-packing plants were in danger of having to temporarily shut down, owners instituted certain protections that helped them stay in business, such as masks, gloves, staggered shifts, and separators between workers.
The bill had been watered down as a 6-foot separation requirement for line workers and more stringent ventilation requirements were removed.
Plant officials had argued that the 6-foot requirement was impractical and that the ventilation requirements were too expensive for some plants.
But isn’t the health of a company’s workers important enough to take all possible measures to protect them?