National and State Immigrants’ Rights Leaders and Meatpacking Workers and Their Families Come Together to Address Worker Safety Amidst COVID-19 Crisis

May 6, 2020

Hayley Burgess, [email protected], 202-805-0375
Hamp Price, TIRRC, [email protected]
Jack Norman, Voces, [email protected]

National and State Immigrants’ Rights Leaders and Meatpacking Workers and Their Families Come Together to Address Worker Safety Amidst COVID-19 Crisis

WASHINGTON, DC — In meatpacking plants across the country, immigrants and people of color are facing disproportionate COVID-19 infection rates as plants are increasingly confirmed hotspots for COVID-19. As essential workers who are on the frontlines confronting COVID-19, plant employees who are compelled to show up for work each day are at greater risk of occupational exposure and death from the virus. On a press call yesterday afternoon, national and state immigrants’ rights leaders came together with meatpacking workers and their families to address this ongoing crisis and outline the changes that government officials and corporations must make to ensure workers’ safety.

“This pandemic has exposed the historical racial inequities of our health, immigration, and labor/employment systems, which means that immigrants and other workers of color are impacted by COVID-19 on a greater scale. Workers have the right to be safe and healthy when reporting to work each day — not just during a crisis. When deprived of these rights, it affects everyone in the workplace. And as we are seeing now, it can have consequences to our supply chain and throughout the communities where meatpacking workers live,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. “We cannot think of healthy employees and a resilient supply chain as two separate issues. We will continue to fight alongside workers to demand they receive access to health care, COVID-19 testing, treatment and care, as well as financial relief and protections in the workplace.”

Guadalupe Páez, a Wisconsin meat processing plant worker who recently recovered from COVID-19 said, “I’m angry at how I was treated, because they didn’t want to believe that I was sick, they just told me ‘you have a cold.’ It’s a message to my coworkers and other workers that we have to raise our voices so that our concerns are heard. I believe that we have a right to speak out, but there are many people who remain silent — but we have the right to speak out. My message to the workers is that your life is above work.”

“People are really afraid. You’re forcing them to make a choice between their life and this job. Workers see what’s happening, and in the case of Mr. Páez, his life was at stake,” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera. “We need companies and the government to step up to support immigrant essential workers. Constant vigilance is required to do the follow-through and have the kind of public pressure and governmental agency support to fundamentally value the lives of these essential workers and their families. Today not only are we celebrating the fact that Mr. Páez and Dora (his daughter) are reunited as survivors, but because of their courage, right now, at both these companies all of the workers’ demands have been met. Their demands should be mandatory guidelines, and there should be mandatory guidelines about higher-quality masks and significant improvement in essential workplaces before we even talk about putting everybody back to work.”

“Workers in these plants are incredibly dedicated and work hard to provide for their families. Unfortunately, their employers have taken advantage of them and created a culture where workers are unsafe and feel they have no voice to speak up,” said Alejandro Murguia-Ortiz, an organizer on behalf of meatpacking workers and their families in Iowa. “Because of this, I and many of the children of these workers are hoping to bring awareness and support for them so we can hold these companies accountable and help empower workers  to share their stories.”

“Now more than ever, it is abundantly clear that our personal health and well-being are interdependent with our neighbors’, coworkers’, and communities’. This means no worker should have to put themselves at risk of getting ill in order to provide for their family,” said Stephanie Teatro, co-director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. “Workers in the food processing industry have always been essential, and we must ensure that all workers, no matter where they’re from or how they got here, are protected and safe at work.”


Recording of the press call:

The National Immigration Law Center’s (NILC’s) Winning in the States initiative aims to tangibly improve the lives of immigrants in the communities where they live and to help change the national narrative about immigration. NILC is investing in building power in these communities to accelerate the progress being made, and we are creating a structure for advocates across the country to share resources and support each other so that, together, we can ensure that every immigrant living in the United States can feel safe and supported in their community. Learn more at