Federal workers union: Ricketts shows 'appalling disregard' for meatpacking inspectors

Published: May. 15, 2020 at 6:39 PM CDT
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Pressure is mounting on Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts to name meatpacking plants hit by COVID-19. Friday, the country’s largest union representing federal workers got behind the push.

"Governor Ricketts is showing appalling disregard for the health and safety of workers inside these plants by refusing to disclose how many people have tested positive for COVID-19," a news release sent out Friday morning,


6 News spoke with Gregg James of the AFGE on Friday.

“We’re definitely concerned about the inspectors in Nebraska,” he said. “I have spoken with several folks who have become ill.”

In early May, Nebraska stopped naming plants where outbreaks were occurring.

“If we don’t have a true picture of the level of infection, or infected folks that working in the plants that our inspectors are going into, the managers can’t make the best decisions,” James said.

6 News asked Ricketts about the union’s concerns; he said contract tracing will take care of it.

“If someone tests positive we reach out and get all their contacts so we’re talking to that person and if they tell us who they work with then we’ll contact those people,” the governor said.

But Heartland Workers Center in south Omaha said immigrants are often afraid to talk to government officials, and holding back information only makes it worse.

“It creates, to me, a sense of mistrust. What they are hiding?” said Sergio Sosa, executive director of Heartland Workers Center. Telling people where the outbreaks are happening can only help, he said.

"If the data is there and the data is going to help all of us to be safer, securer, to keep distancing, then release it,” Sosa said. "Then we will know."

There are between 400 and 500 federal inspectors working in Nebraska’s meatpacking plants. Representatives of the union supporting them said they will be making a call to Ricketts to speak with him about their concerns.