UPDATE: The video attached to this article has been updated to remove erroneous, unrelated citrus packing house video.
FRESNO, Calif. (KGPE/KSEE) – A new report by the California Institute for Rural Studies finds alleged violations of COVID safety protocols by food production employers.
The report shows food production employers were cited by Cal-OSHA with four times more citations for violating COVID-19 guidelines than any other industry combined.
“Things have gotten better, but we can do better,” said Pete Maturino, the Agricultural Division Director for UFCW Local 5.
A panel of representatives for unions, employees, and organizers spoke on their findings in a new report by CIRS.
They say within a 16-month span from April 2020 to August 2021, there were 367 total violations recorded by Cal-OSHA that were committed by food production employers.
More than the health care and hospitality industry, combined.
Yet, CIRS findings found that these employers paid less in fines than the majority of other industries.
“In 2020, 59,000 meatpacking workers were exposed to COVID. 259 Of these workers died,” said Maturino.
The changes employers made included plexiglass between employees in the factories, giving proper spacing between employees during work and break hours, and giving proper protective equipment when coming into work.
Although for some, the improvements did not come fast enough.
“In July 2020, 8% of all coronavirus cases in the US were tied to packing plant outbreaks. It’s our understanding that even these numbers are probably under reported,” said Suzanne Adely with the Food Chain Workers Alliance.
Advocates for food production workers want the employers held accountable to the full extent of the law.
“The biggest problem in all laws is the lack of enforcement. That if you break the law, you could be subject to losing your business license, that’s what I would put, but instead, they get a slap on the wrist,” said Maturino. “If these are not being enforced, how good are they?”
We reached out to some of the businesses named, two rejected our request for an interview a third did not reply.