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

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

FarmSTAND (formerly the Food Project at Public Justice), Public Justice, Towards Justice, Nichols Kaster, and Justice at Work filed a lawsuit in the Middle District of Pennsylvania using a never-before-tested mechanism in the Occupational Safety and Health Act, seeking to compel OSHA to enforce workplace protections in slaughterhouses. As a result of our case, workers won an important legal tool for when OSHA fails to protect them. It is the first case to recognize the employees can use the courts to compel OSHA to protect them from imminent danger under section 662(d) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

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, violating its obligation to protect the well-being of workers. 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.

After we appealed a Pennsylvania judge’s decision to dismiss our case, the Third Circuit handed workers an important win: employees can use the courts to make OSHA protect them from imminent danger when the agency fails to do so. Although the Third Circuit court did not grant the Maid-Rite meatpacking workers the relief they deserved, it affirmed an important legal tool for worker safety.

Trial Briefs

Appellate Briefs

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