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Iowa lawmakers file OSHA complaint over working conditions at Tyson plant in Waterloo

WATERLOO, Iowa (KWWL) -- Iowa lawmakers have filed an OSHA complaint against the Tyson Foods plant in Waterloo after employees complained of unsafe working conditions amid a COVID-19 outbreak.

The complaint alleges multiple violations of federal OSHA standards. It accuses Tyson of failing to protect its workers from being exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace. It also accuses Tyson of not using CDC mitigation methods that have been deemed effective by other industries.

On Friday, more than a dozen elected officials urged Tyson to close the Waterloo plant to allow for a proper evaluation of the facility’s compliance with CDC recommended COVID-19 mitigation measures.

Tyson told KWWL last week that the company has implemented measures to keep employees safe. Tyson says plastic barriers have been installed between employees who work close together. They have started requiring employees to wear masks and have temperature screenings before they enter the facility.

“What we are seeing play out is borderline criminal,” Senator Bill Dotzler of Waterloo said. “I represent workers who are telling me that even the voluntary precautions being taken aren’t doing anything. They’re having temperatures taken and the results ignored. These workers then go to work in close proximity throughout their shifts, go out into the community and expose community members, then go back into the plant where it all starts over again. Action must be taken immediately to stop further spread of COVID-19 and protect not only the workers at these important facilities but our communities as a whole.”

Senators Bill Dotzler, Nate Boulton and Kevin Kinney are calling for immediate action by state and local officials to:

  • Protect the health and safety of Iowa’s essential workers when they are on the job.
  • Stop the community transmission of COVID-19 among family members, neighbors and others who may be in contact with infected essential employees.
  • Prevent long-term interruption of the nation’s food supply.

The Senators are calling for three immediate points of action to address the situation:

  1. The State Labor Commissioner -- with input from representatives of the major livestock processing companies, representatives of the major labor unions representing livestock processing workers, and the department of public health – must issue stricter requirements for worker safety operational standards and protocols that include consideration of systemic disinfecting, reorganizing, and reopening closed facilities after new safety measures are put in place.
  2. As part of the process of seeking input on safety protocols, Iowa’s Labor Commissioner and Iowa Department of Public Health must also develop new public health crisis emergency rules for limiting the spread of COVID-19 in manufacturing and livestock processing facilities.  
  3. Iowa OSHA inspectors must immediately inspect each livestock processing facility to ensure current and any newly-enacted emergency rules and standards are being followed. According to the Labor Commissioner, not one meatpacking facility in Iowa has had an OSHA inspection since the public health emergency was declared.

Two workers at a Tyson plant in Columbus Junction have died from COVID-19. The plant has been closed since April 6.

Tyson has faced growing pressure in the past few days to also close down their plant in Perry, where other positive cases have been confirmed. Tyson will suspend production for a day at the facility in Perry so that additional deep cleaning can take place.

Iowa saw a surge in positive coronavirus cases over the weekend. An additional 389 Iowans have tested positive for the virus. Of the new cases, 261 or 67% of the new cases can be attributed to surveillance testing of meat processing facilities. That includes over 500 completed surveillance tests of Tyson employees and over 500 completed surveillance tests of National Beef employees, for a total of 84 positive and 177 positive respectively.

  • Iowa coronavirus tracker & data HERE.
  • Follow our full Coronavirus in Iowa coverage HERE.
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Trevor Oates

Executive Producer

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