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Lawsuit: Firm did not protect meatpacking workers from virus

November 23, 2020 GMT

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska meatpacking plant has been accused in a lawsuit of failing to take adequate precautions to protect workers from the coronavirus.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the federal lawsuit on Monday against Noah’s Ark Processors in Hastings, Nebraska. The lawsuit said the plant has made no effort to spread workers out to limit the spread of the virus, and it fails to promptly replace workers’ masks when they become soiled with blood and sweat. The plaintiffs include several former workers at the plant.

“Noah’s Ark has shown a shocking indifference to its employees and the community by failing to take common-sense steps to protect them from the spread of COVID-19,” ACLU attorney Spencer Amdur said.

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Company officials declined to comment on the lawsuit Monday.

The meatpacking industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic because workers stand shoulder-to-shoulder as they toil inside the plants and often crowd together in locker rooms and on breaks. Most major meatpacking companies have taken a number of measures to protect workers, including installing plastic dividers between work stations, offering masks and other protective gear, checking employee temperatures when they arrive and stepping up sanitization procedures inside the plants.

The ACLU lawsuit said Noah’s Ark failed to take similar steps at its plant, and managers at the plant pressured people to continue working even when they were sick and showing symptoms of COVID-19. The company employs between 300 and 400 workers at the plant.

Nationwide, at least 19,800 meatpacking workers have been infected or exposed to the virus and 128 have died, the United Food and Commercial Workers union said. Earlier this year, the families of several Tyson workers in Iowa who died from COVID-19 filed a similar lawsuit against that company, saying it knowingly put employees at risk in the early days of the pandemic.