From pork factories in South Dakota to poultry plants in Maryland, COVID-19 outbreaks are threatening workers’ lives across the country. The latest: seafood processors in the South.
Last month, Maribel and Reyna, two workers on H-2B visas from northern Mexico, saw about 100 of their coworkers get sick with COVID-19 in a crawfish plant in Louisiana. They told us that even as the outbreak began, their employer did not take adequate steps to protect workers. They worked elbow-to-elbow without masks and lived in a crowded house with 40 other coworkers. Maribel and Reyna started developing COVID-19 symptoms — they had trouble breathing and couldn’t get out of bed.
When they went to the hospital to seek medical treatment, their employer fired them and reported them to immigration authorities. But now, Maribel and Reyna are taking action.
With support from our legal team, Maribel and Reyna filed complaints to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) arguing that their employer retaliated against them for standing up for their right to health and safety. Together with them and our allies at the Seafood Workers’ Alliance- a project of the New Orleans Worker Center for Racial Justice- we are calling on OSHA to establish and enforce emergency standards nationwide.
“I’m speaking out because other workers should see that they have rights and should not stay silent when they are being unjust with us. I imagine many other workers are facing even worse conditions than us,” Reyna shared with us.
“We should be able to speak out about our rights in the US in order to fight for our health and wellbeing,” said Maribel.
We will continue to hold employers and agencies accountable to ensure that workers like Maribel and Reyna never have to risk their lives on the job. Worker power is more important than ever — and so is solidarity from supporters like you.