Maid-Rite (Justice at Work v. Sec. of Labor)

Maid-Rite (Justice at Work v. Sec. of Labor)

Public Justice, Towards Justice, Nichols Kaster, and Justice at Work filed a lawsuit in the Middle District of Pennsylvania against the Secretary of Labor for failing to compel a slaughterhouse to protect its workers from contracting COVID-19.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) failed to protect slaughterhouse workers – a violation of its obligations. Using a never-before-tested mechanism in the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the plaintiffs seek to compel OSHA to enforce workplace protections in slaughterhouses.

At a Pennsylvania Maid-Rite meat processing plant, meatpacking workers are at extreme risk for contracting COVID-19 and experienced an outbreak at the start of the pandemic. The facility’s egregious health and safety conditions – no social distancing, perverse incentives to work despite illness, limited opportunity for handwashing, and more – are common in slaughterhouses across the country, rendering them national hotspots for COVID-19 outbreaks. As of November 20, 2020, two-hundred and fifty-three meatpacking workers have died of the virus. Most affected workers are people of color, a symptom of deep-rooted racism in the food system.

Despite ongoing advocacy from Justice at Work, OSHA delayed inspecting the plant. When the agency finally conducted an inspection, it gave advance notice so the company could temporarily change its practices. The agency still has not taken any action despite seeing workers crammed together as they performed their tasks. OSHA’s abdication of responsibility enables meatpacking companies to continue profiting at the expense of workers. This case aims to hold the agency accountable to its duty to protect workers.

Despite sharing the concern for worker safety, a Pennsylvania federal judge granted OSHA’s motion to dismiss our case, holding that remedy lies with the legislature instead of the courts.

Trial Briefs

Appellate Briefs

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