Protecting essential workers
As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in Virginia and much of the state’s economy was locked down, essential workers were still going to work every day keeping the rest of us fed and supplied.
We started hearing from immigrant poultry workers about horrific conditions in their processing plants. They were sent to walk-in refrigerators before having their temperatures checked or given Tylenol if they had a fever and told to re-test. Then they were sent to work shoulder-to-shoulder on the line without adequate personal protective equipment and threatened if they complained.
Alongside poultry workers and allies, we organized simultaneous car rallies outside poultry facilities in Harrisonburg and the Eastern Shore. Hundreds of cars show up to support the workers.
In response to the publicity of these demonstrations, CDC officials came to inspect the poultry facility that was highlighted by the Eastern Shore rally. Within a few weeks, Governor Northam proposed new COVID workplace safety standards.
Our advocates worked countless hours pushing for those standards to be effective and far reaching. When the standards finally passed in mid-July, Virginia became the first state in the nation with enforceable, statewide, COVID-specific workplace safety standards.
In a rare salute, the administration gave advocates credit for pushing them to make the standards apply to all workers and not just the poultry workers that inspired the effort.