'Voluntary when people’s lives are at stake is not acceptable:' Baldwin calls for mandatory OSHA regulations

NOW: ’Voluntary when people’s lives are at stake is not acceptable:’ Baldwin calls for mandatory OSHA regulations

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Wisconsin's Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin sent a letter to Tyson, Smithfield and JBS USA Wednesday, demanding answers on how large meat packing facilities are protecting workers.

Baldwin said more than 5,000 meat processing workers have contracted COVID-19, or been forced to quarantine nationwide.

"It’s probably, in terms of illness, second only to healthcare workers, who are exposed to people with the virus,” Baldwin said.

A federal judge had forced a Missouri Smithfield plant to follow CDC guidelines after a lawsuit.

The plant did make improvements, and Tuesday, the court ruled it is now up to OSHA to enforce policy.

“In light of the ways in which Smithfield had altered it’s operations, after the suit was filed, it no longer felt that it had the authority to enforce additional rules.”

Smithfield sent the following statement on the issue: "At the core of our COVID-19 response is an ongoing focus on employee health and safety and continued adherence with – at a minimum – the CDC and OSHA guidance. All these actions complement safety measures already in place at all our locations and are on top of the hygienic and sanitary environments maintained at all times in our industry for food safety and quality purposes."

Baldwin said the federal government needs to make mandatory rules for companies with essential workers.

"Voluntary when people’s lives are at stake is not acceptable," Baldwin said. "OSHA needs to issue very specific emergency temporary standards.”

She asked the CEO's of all three major companies to make a pledge of transparency regarding work conditions.

“So that workers know, so that their families know, so that the community knows what they need to do to be safe.”

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