Governor Ralph Northam announced yesterday that Virginia will be the first state in the nation to adopt emergency workplace safety standards in response to COVID-19. These new rules will protect essential workers, including those in the Shenandoah Valley’s poultry plants. WMRA’s Calvin Pynn reports.
Virginia’s new COVID-era workplace standards to mitigate the virus’ spread resulted from months of work from a statewide coalition to protect poultry workers. Harrisonburg activist Michael Snell-Feikema has been heavily involved in that push.
MICHAEL SNELL-FEIKEMA: If you can’t be safe, if your health and very life is in danger at work, that’s a pretty bad situation, and these standards have been created in order to address that situation, not only for poultry workers but for all workers in the state.
Harrisonburg City Council issued a resolution in late June supporting those measures, as more than 335 poultry workers in the Shenandoah Valley have tested positive for COVID-19. Mandatory physical distancing, personal protective equipment, and transparency when an employee tests positive for the virus are among those new rules.
They will be enforced based on complaints from workers, which were difficult to validate in the poultry plants without formal safety standards in place.
SNELL-FEIKEMA: The governmental authorities have been completely dependent on what the poultry companies said they were doing, that’s why this is such an important step. This actually involves having someone come in and investigate to find out what’s happening.
These temporary standards will be in place for 6 months, and could potentially lead to permanent protections across different industries.