US meat plants TRANSCRIPT: 4/28/20, The Rachel Maddow Show

Debbie Berkowitz, Debbie Stabenow


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

Really happy to have you with us.


This is one of those A blocks where you`re not going to know why I`m

starting with what I`m starting with. But if you stick with me till the

end, it has a really big payoff. So let`s break the wall a little bit to

tell you how this is going to go, but that`s how it`s going to go.


I want to start in 2018, which feels like roughly 35 years ago now, but two

years ago, 2018, the country had a big problem with lettuce. There was an

E. coli outbreak affecting romaine lettuce in the United States in 2018. Do

you remember that?


It was a big deal. Illnesses reported in 36 states, 96 people hospitalized.

More than two dozen people got a really serious complication that basically

resulted in kidney failure. Five Americans ultimately died.


When that happened in 2018, the FDA and the CDC and investigators in

several states, they got together and did the public health detective work

that needed to be done to figure out what had gone wrong in that outbreak.


And those investigators ultimately pinpointed the source of the problem

with romaine lettuce. That was both a hard thing for them to do – it was

very impressive – but it was also something that had really practical

consequences for us, the lettuce-eating public, and for the produce

industry that sells the stuff.




MATT BRADLEY, NBC NEWS REPORTER: At the Pasadena farmers market this

morning, lettuce lovers can shop easy, knowing this locally grown romaine

is safe.


CATHY DOMINGUEZ, UNDERWOOD FAMILY FARMS: I had a couple customers ask about

the romaine lettuce, whether or not ours was California grown, if it was

safe to eat. And yes.


BRADLEY: The concern, romaine grown in Yuma, Arizona, and shipped across

the country. The CDC is warning about an E. coli outbreak from lettuce

grown there, telling grocery stores, restaurants and consumers to toss it

all out if they can`t be sure where it came from.



really looking at lettuce in the grocery stores that`s coming from

California, not from Yuma, Arizona, and it`s not affected by this outbreak.


BRADLEY: A distinction that puts local shoppers at ease.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We know which farmers are here. I feel confident we`re

not going to have any issues.


BRADLEY: Matt Bradley, NBC News, Pasadena, California.




MADDOW: California lettuce shoppers at ease once the disease detectives

found that the contamination in romaine lettuce in 2018 was not coming from

California farms, so it was safe to buy California romaine.


It was an interesting public health case study. The team that did that

investigation produced this report that not only outlined the problems that

they detected at these farms in Arizona, they also produced really blunt

findings about what growers and processors needed to do to fix this problem

and to avoid something similar happening in the future. It`s really, you

know, blunt, specific advice. Assess and mitigate risks related to land

uses near or adjacent to growing fields that may contaminate agricultural

water or leafy green crops.


For example, nearby cattle operations or dairy farms, manure or composting

facility. Also, assure that all agricultural water, water that directly

contacts the harvestable portion of the crop, is safe and adequate for its

intended use, including agricultural water used for the application of crop

protection chemicals. Really specific test. It goes on like that for pages.


And documents like this are common in the food industry and in public

health at large. The CDC specifically has a whole team that works on things

like this for public health, the Epidemic Intelligence Service. And it`s as

cool as it sounds. I mean, they really are more like detectives than

anything else.


And there`s public evidence of their work everywhere. We get the reports on

what they do. There was, for example, a deadly food poisoning outbreak

associated with the Jack in the Box fast food chain back in the early

1990s. I remember how freaked out everybody was about that. It was a big



The CDC investigated that to figure out what was going wrong. That was how

America figured out what happened there and how Jack in the Box got back on

its feet.


Here`s the report from – the CDC report after they investigated an

outbreak on South Bass Island in Ohio in 2004. It was an outbreak of

gastroenteritis. They didn`t know where it was coming from. The CDC came

in. They traced it to contaminated groundwater on the island, and they made

a bunch of really specific recommendations.


Quote: The septage disposal site should be closed and septage must be

disposed at the sewage treatment facility or off the island. Residents

should not consume groundwater unless the source has demonstrated history

of negative bacteriological results. All island groundwater should be

treated before consumption. A moratorium on the construction of new on-site

wastewater treatment and disposal systems should be imposed.


I mean, you have a bad public health situation of some kind. People are

getting sick, and it all seems to be from some sort of source, but nobody

can exactly figure out, you know, what happens is. The CDC comes in. Their

disease detectives investigate it, and they tell you what you need to do.

And then you do it.


This is – this is the system that we have in this country. And it`s for,

you know, big, famous outbreaks like the Jack in the Box thing. It`s like

that island outbreak in Ohio that you never heard about.


Duval County, Florida, in 2012, they had a TB outbreak at an assisted

living facility. It`s one of the biggest tuberculosis outbreaks in the

United States in more than a decade. The recommendations there were blunt

and straight-up CDC style. Screen all staff and clients with one of these

four forms of testing.


Replace ventilation filters monthly. Require proof of TB screening for all

staff and clients. And this is how things have looked at the CDC going back

to the `80s and `90s and the early 2000s. This is what they looked like

during the Trump administration for example when they found Legionnaires`

disease at a veterans home in Quincey, Illinois, two years ago.


The CDC came in and did one of these investigations. They called it an Epi-

Aid. And they told them what they needed to do at this veterans home.


Quote: Residents who develop pneumonia should be tested for Legionnaires`

disease with one of these two types of assays – actually with both of

these two types of assays.


The CDC told them who exactly should supervise patient transfers in the

veterans home to the local hospital. The CDC picked who should be in charge

of those transfers to make sure the legionnaires testing didn`t fall

through the cracks for any veterans who are transferred from one place to

the other.


The CDC went so far as to tell them how to re-rig their plumbing, their

thermostatic valves, to ensure the water temperature was right inside the

home. Quote, the veterans home should establish control limits for the hot

water temperature range at fixtures prior to mixing.


This is how it works. It`s really good that we have them and that they`re a

top-shelf organization. CDC gets called in because there`s a public health

disaster somewhere. They investigate what happened. They tell you what to

do to fix it and to stop it from happening again, and you do it.


That is how it works. That is how it`s supposed to work. That is not how it

is working now.


Let me explain. Let me also back up for a second first. As of today, the

U.S. is now over 1 million cases of coronavirus, absolutely dwarfing any

other epidemic anywhere else in the world. We are up over 58,000 Americans

dead from coronavirus over the course of not much longer than one month.


Remember when the University of Washington model that the White House was

relying on said that we would likely hit 61,000 dead Americans by August

4th? That was the projection the White House was relying on. Well, we`re

likely to hit 61,000 dead Americans by the end of this week, easy, and it`s

still April.


So the rosy estimates about how we were going to get out of this with just

50,000 or 60,000 people dead, no. Today, that University of Washington

model that the White House has been relying on, they revised upward their

estimate of how many Americans this thing is going to kill. They now say

they think it will be more than 74,000 of us dead by the first week of

August. So we`ll see.


Americans, by large majorities, support the policies that have been put in

place to slow the spread of the virus, the stay-at-home orders, the limits

on the size of gatherings. “The Washington Post” has a new national poll

that shows that really big majorities of Americans, nearly two-thirds of

Americans, support those policies. Plus, another 16 percent of Americans

who say the restrictions actually aren`t tight enough, that we should be

doing more.


Nevertheless, there are governors around the country who are starting to

tell businesses and different entities in their states to open up, and the

White House is letting them all do it, encouraging them to do it

themselves, make up their own models for disease control in a global



You know, and governors often go out of their way to say they`re very data-

driven in these decisions, but it`s clear most of them are making that up.

Just from the data that we have about what`s happening in the epidemic

right now, it`s at least clear where it`s the worst idea to open things up.

“The New York Times” put on its front page today the aggregated local

information about where the American epidemic is worst right now.


And I find it very helpful actually that they stacked the data into metro

areas rather than just looking at it by county because we`re not always

familiar with what county names mean. But if you talk about metro areas,

it`s usually something that you recognize.


Look at the list – top ten places in the country where the outbreak is the

worst right now. This is new cases over the past two weeks. And you see

some expected locations there, right? The tri-state area of New York, New

Jersey, Connecticut is obviously the hardest hit area in the country and

has been from the beginning. New York City, you see on there in fifth

place. Fairfield County, Connecticut, is there. Trenton, New Jersey.


But look at everything else on that list. I mean number one is Marion,

Ohio. Why is that number one on the list? Oh, right, they have a state

prison in Marion, Ohio, where more than 80 percent of the prisoners, more

than 2,000 men in that facility, have tested positive. So, yes, they`re

number one.


Grand Island, Nebraska, is ranked second in the nation in terms of where

the outbreak is worst right now. The Grand Island, Nebraska, outbreak

started at a JBS meat processing plant in Grand Island. There`s no stay-at-

home order either statewide in Nebraska or locally in Grand Island. The

governor wouldn`t let them do it. So the outbreak there that started at

that JBS meat plant has just exploded in Grand Island, Nebraska.


Pine Bluff, Arkansas, is third. That`s another prison outbreak. That`s

Cummins Prisons with over 900 prisoners and staff infected. It`s not –

it`s not – you know, you can go by this one by one.


It`s not rocket science to figure out where and why the raging out of

control American coronavirus epidemic is at its worst. I mean, where

prisons are testing, those are turning out to be some of the worst and

biggest outbreaks in the country. Still don`t have a national strategy

we`re working on about that, but the more places test, the more you will

find that to be true. We`re going to have more on that coming up later on

this hour.


We`re seeing it in prisons. We`re also seeing it where there are meet

plants with thousands of employees. Of the top ten metro areas where the

coronavirus outbreak is the worst in the country right now, four of the ten

are places where the local outbreaks appear to have sprung from big meat

processing plants with thousands of workers.


I mean, why should the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area in Iowa have hundreds of

cases and still be growing? One of the worst outbreaks in the country.

Well, they`ll tell you in Waterloo that it came from the Tyson meat plant

there. You know, why is it one of the worst places in the country right now

to be in Grand Island, Nebraska? Because of the JBS meat plant there and

the outbreak that started at that plant.


The Sioux City, Iowa, area, why over 1,000 cases in the Sioux City, Iowa,

area and still growing? Well, local mayors there would like to know.


Quote: The mayors of all five cities in Metro Sioux City called yesterday

for greater transparency from state and county health officials about

places contributing to the recent spike in local COVID-19 cases. In a joint

statement, the mayors asked businesses to, quote, take responsibility for

any outbreak or spread of the coronavirus in their facilities, publicly

disclose any positive cases, and release a detailed plan for reducing the

spread of the virus.


Employers who fail to comply with these conditions should close until such

time a response plan is in place, according to the mayors` statement. The

mayors publicly weighed in on the subject as county and state health

officials continued to sidestep questions linking the surge in positive

cases to Tyson Fresh Meats, Dakota City beef plant, the Sioux City metro

area`s largest employer with over 4,300 workers.


Now, Dakota City beef plant in Dakota County, Nebraska, more than 4,300

workers there. It`s in the Sioux City metro area, but the Sioux City metro

area encompasses three different states – Iowa, South Dakota, and



In Dakota County where the plant is specifically, Dakota County, Nebraska,

they`ve already got 600 cases reported in that county. There`s no hospital

in that county.


That`s the second highest number of cases in all of Nebraska`s counties.

The other one is another big meatpacking plant. I mean, this Dakota City

outbreak, that`s – nobody`s talking about how many workers are positive



The mayors, the local mayors there in the Sioux City area, are asking the

three governors in that tri-state area, the Republican governors in South

Dakota, Iowa, and Nebraska to please provide a more comprehensive reporting

dad to include the specific location where any outbreak or spread has

occurred. They`re asking for help. Please tell us where our hundreds and

hundreds and hundreds of coronavirus cases are coming from in the Sioux

City area.


But, you know, you might be barking the tree, wrong trees, because in Iowa,

South Dakota, and Republican, those are three Republican governors who

never put in place any stay-at-home orders and who are even today bragging

about how much more they`re now opening up even though they didn`t actually

close anything in the first place.


So we`ll see how the Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska governors feel about the

Sioux City area mayors freaking out about their hundreds of coronavirus

cases and their open meat plants with thousands of workers and nobody

telling them how many cases there are at those plants. But that`s what`s

happening in that part of the country, which is among the worst-hit areas

in the country now.


I should also tell you that in Iowa today, the lead story in “The Des

Moines Register” is how the Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds last week received

an explicit warning from the University of Iowa about the pace of the

epidemic in her state, warning the governor explicitly, quote, prevention

measures should remain in place. Without such measures being continued, a

second wave of infections is likely.


She was advised as such by the University of Iowa last week, but today she

moved to loosen everything up anyway. Two of the fastest-growing, worst

outbreaks in the country are in Iowa, but who cares, right? Open it up.


But this meatpacking thing isn`t just in South Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa.

It`s everywhere there`s meatpacking. In Cass County, Indiana, they have no

reason to have over 1,000 coronavirus cases in Cass County, Indiana, except

for their Tyson meat plant there.


In Greeley, Colorado, Weld County, Colorado, where the local hospital is

groaning, local health officials writing to Weld County this week to tell

them to please not open anything up. Quote, in our hospitals, we have never

before seen numbers of patients relying on ventilators to stay alive.

That`s local health officials in Weld County. That`s because Weld County is

groaning under the weight of its coronavirus patients already because of

the JBS plant in Greeley, Colorado, with an untold number of workers

infected there because the JBS plant there decided just not to test them

all before opening back up yesterday. You got 6,000 people in that plant.


The plant told NBC News yesterday they are proceeding as if everybody in

the plant`s infected. They`re not testing them. There`s no stay-at-home

order in Weld County now. Effectively no stay-at-home order in Weld County

because Weld County decided that they didn`t decide to believe that the

governor`s stay-at-home order was enforceable. And Weld County is telling

businesses to do whatever they want.


I have to tell you, though, wrap this back around. The CDC did get called

in to do one of their famous Epi-Aid investigations at one of these meat

plants, at one of the first, worst outbreaks, the Smithfield plant outbreak

in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.


The CDC got called in to investigate what happened here and to tell them

what to do. But something hinky appears to have happened there. You

remember just a few minutes ago the kind of language I described from the

other CDC Epi-Aid reports on other public health disasters that they`ve

investigates, right? They don`t tend to mince their words in terms of what

they tell people to do, right?


Screen all staff and clients with one of these four forms of testing. A

moratorium on the construction of new on site wastewater treatment and

disposal systems should be imposed. The veterans home should establish

control limits for the hot water temperature range at fixtures.


I mean, that`s how CDC Epi-Aid reports look. That`s the language that you

find decade after decade, outbreak after outbreak, investigation after

investigation from the CDC. Public health disaster in any state of any

size, famous or obscure, the CDC comes in. They diagnose it. They figure it

out and they tell you what to do.


A moratorium should be imposed. Screen all staff. Establish limits. That`s

how CDC Epi-Aid reports are written.


Except not anymore, not in this crisis apparently, not in the meatpacking

plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, that accounts for already more than

1,000 cases in Sioux Falls. CDC went in and did their investigation. Their

recommendations in terms of what the plant ought to do, if you look at all

the nouns, all the substance of what they say, would be a relevant fix, it

all seems rational.


But for some reason, there`s a whole lot of very un-CDC language throughout

this report. I mean it flat out says, quote, these recommendations are

discretionary and are not required or mandated by CDC. What?


Look at this. Quote: Consider the following actions to physically separate

employees. Consider the following actions? Just think about it?


Portable hand washing facilities could be utilized. Oh, they could, could



Stagger shifts, start times, and break times as much as feasible. Yeah, but

Smithfield, don`t knock yourself out. If it`s not feasible, of course we



Quote, consider moving training online. You should consider that. Quote,

make unidirectional paths through the facility where possible. Face

coverings are generally recommended. Quote, if feasible, all employees

should wear face coverings. But if not, you know, no big.


Quote: The facial covering should be discarded and replaced when wet or

dirty, comma, if possible.


What CDC is this? This kind of language is not what the CDC does in these

kinds of investigations. Literally over the course of decades, we`ve looked

at the language in these investigations. This is not the way the CDC tells

you what to do after they investigate the public health disaster in your

facility or in your town or in your state.


All this: if feasible, if possible, consider doing this, this isn`t

mandatory, you might want to – I mean this gives all the meatpacking

plants any kind of out to not do any of this stuff. All they have to do is

say, oh, that`s not feasible. They told us to consider it. We did think

about it. We decided not to do it.


I mean what is this? If possible, specifically ask employees about recent

history of fever. If it`s possible, but, you know, whatever.


The Trump administration, as of tonight, is telling all the meat plants to

open, to remain open. There`s been dozens of meat plants shut around the

country. The president has issued an executive order within the last few

minutes that tells all the meat plants to open back up.


Why have the meat plants closed? Because they`ve been infecting their

workers with coronavirus by the thousands and lots of workers have started

to die. So when the president is now ordering them all to open back up,

what does that mean for all the workers who are working in these

environments where in state after state after state, in plant after plant

after plant, we are seeing that the working conditions in these facilities

expose them to mortal risk.


There are thousands of Americans, thousands of people who have been

infected at these meat plants already. It`s not a coincidence. It`s not a

one-off. It`s happening because of the way these meat plants operate.


So, should the way the meat plants operate be changed if they`re going to

be ordered by the president to reopen? The president is telling them to be

open, to reopen. Any place that`s closed, reopen, right? The Trump

administration is also, simultaneously, apparently overseeing a new kind of

CDC where meat plants with gigantic public health disasters unfolding

inside them don`t actually get told what to do to keep their employees

alive anymore. They just get some handy hints that they`re free to



And I expect anything from the Trump administration. I do not expect this

from the CDC. CDC, are you OK? Would you let us know if you`re not?


We`re going to try to get some answers here, next.




MADDOW: It took thousands of confirmed coronavirus cases at the nation`s

meat processing plants and at least 20 deaths of people who work at those

plants, but the Trump administration just this past weekend finally did

issue some guidance for those plants on how to keep their workers safe if

the plants are going to be kept open. Those guidelines are purely

voluntary, though.


And this comes after a sort of strange CDC report on a meatpacking plant

outbreak in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. That report stopped short of

actually telling the plant to do anything directly and instead used a bunch

of what appears to be unprecedented mealy mouthed language just suggesting

that the plant think about making changes if feasible rather than just

bluntly telling them in public health terms what they ought to do.


We don`t know why the CDC is suddenly all pudding mouthed about these

things for the first time in their existence and we don`t know why all of

this is being perceived as voluntary for these plants. The federal

government could have required that plants take this public health measures

if they`re going to be open. But they haven`t done so.


There`s an entire agency who`s job is to do that thing. The Occupational

Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, requires workplaces to operate

safely, and they mean it, right? They can require you to do stuff. They

don`t just suggest it or give you stuff to think about.


But instead of requiring anything during COVID-19, the Trump administration

has just opted for these, you know, sort of gentle suggestions. And their

guidance for meet plants this weekend, OSHA and CDC included a handy

graphic illustrating how meatpacking work stations should be aligned,

quote, if feasible.


You know, if you can swing it, if it`s not too much trouble. If it is too

much trouble, you don`t have to do it, whatever.


I mean, even if these merely voluntary, if feasible, see if you want to

think about it safety guidelines, even with the meatpacking industry

fighting to keep its plants running until now, there were 20 or so plants

that have been shut down this month across the country either because of

intense local pressure or just because so many workers are out sick, they

can`t stay operational. But apparently, President Trump is now, as of

tonight, going to force those plants to reopen and to force the plants that

haven`t yet closed to stay open.


The president signed this executive order tonight declaring meat plants to

be critical infrastructure in the nation`s food supply chain. You start

shutting down meat plants just because a few thousand of your workers are

sick, this White House isn`t going to stand for that.


Forcing coronavirus outbreaks like these meatpacking plants to stay open or

reopen would pose a tremendous public health challenge even if the federal

government were requiring that strict health and safety protocols had to be

implemented in these plants. But this order from the White House has the

potential to undercut even the voluntary guidance the CDC and OSHA issued

this weekend.


Ahead of the president signing this order tonight, former senior OSHA

official Debbie Berkowitz told “The Washington Post” this. She said, quote:

The president has just undermined all efforts to stop the spread of disease

in these plants. He`s essentially saying they must be allowed to operate

and this there should be no specific requirements that plants must follow

to stop the spread of this disease.


Quote, Berkowitz said Trump`s order would render meaningless guidance that

the CDC issued on Sunday. Quote, without putting in specific safety

requirements beyond masks, the disease will continue to spread through the

plants and into the community.


The Trump administration could make the guidance that is intended to keep

the workers at these plants alive mandatory. It could require these plants

to keep their workers safe from coronavirus. They`re just not and ordering

them back open when thousands of people have already been infected inside



So what`s going on here?


Joining us now is Debbie Berkowitz. She is now the director of the National

Employment Law Project`s Worker Health and Safety Program. She`s a former

senior policy adviser for OSHA under President Obama.


Ms. Berkowitz, thank you so much for making time tonight. You are an in-

demand person at this point, and I really appreciate you being here.



Rachel. Thank you.


MADDOW: Let me ask you. You obviously are a well-steeped expert in all of

these matters that I am approaching as a layman and an observer. Let me

just ask you in all humility to please correct me or let me know if I`m

looking at any of this the wrong way around or even if I`m just emphasizing

the wrong things in the way that I`m trying to explain this situation.


BERKOWITZ: No. I think you are totally spot-on, and it`s something that is

just very hard to wrap your brain around that the president has essentially

said to 500,000 blue-collar workers out there, working these really hard

jobs in meat and poultry plants, that he doesn`t care if you get sick or

you die because he wants the plants to be open, so, you know, his corporate

executive friends can keep making money.


I think that one of the things that`s important to point out is the

president didn`t have to do this. He is creating a false choice, that you

can either feed America or keep workers safe. And you can absolutely do

both. And a caring industry would do both.


MADDOW: I think that there is – because we are in a crisis, because so

much of this is unprecedented, what we`re living through right now is

unprecedented, I think there is actually a lot of sympathy and people are

willing to give the government a lot of leeway in terms of understanding

that some things are hard to do and that some things may be nigh on

impossible to do but you`ve got to try to do them, and you know you won`t

perfection, but at least if you try and you fail a little bit, people will

understand. I feel that`s true with a lot of things that have gone wrong.


But in this case, I feel like there isn`t a case for nihilistic

resignation. The CDC and OSHA, to a certain extent, have actually done the

work to figure out factually what needs to be done to run meatpacking

plants in a way that doesn`t kill their workers or expose them all to this

infectious disease. It`s – the work is done. It`s just a matter of

requiring them to do it, which is just a decision by the government, isn`t



BERKOWITZ: Yes, it`s another stunning thing is the Department of Labor,

headed by Eugene Scalia, you know, OSHA, the agency I once worked at in the

last administration, has chosen – this is a choice – not to enforce any

requirements in the meat industry to protect workers. They could. They

could enforce everything the CDC laid out at the beginning of March and

again laid it out very clearly just now, as you said, in their new



The industry, you know, looked at these recommendations. They`re voluntary.

And in the end, didn`t implement them, didn`t implement them even though

workers and unions and myself, we all called for them all through the month

of March. And the result is, you know, as you said, over 3,000 workers are

really sick, 17 to 20 (ph) workers have died. It`s spread into the

communities. And this didn`t have to happen.


Had the industry implemented these measures, they would still be operating

right now. They wouldn`t be shut down.


MADDOW: Let me also ask you about the language that has struck me as

unusual, perhaps unprecedented, in the CDC`s report on what happened in

that Smithfield plant in South Dakota. We`re seeing echoes of it a little

bit in the voluntary guidelines that were produced by the administration

this weekend.


You`re an expert when you look at those things. I`m just a person who

specializes in reading comprehension and in comparing different Epi-Aid

reports from CDC, from different types of outbreaks and crises over the

decades. I feel like I have never before seen all of this mealy-mouthed,

you got an out here kind of language, saying, don`t do this if you don`t

want to. Just consider this, if feasible, if possible, you might want to

mull this over.


I just feel like it`s not – it doesn`t read like a public health document

usually does. It doesn`t read like CDC instructions usually do after

they`ve done one of these investigations. But, again, I would like your

expert opinion on whether or not that seems strange to you as well.


BERKOWITZ: I think CDC knows clearly how to prevent the spread of COVID-19

in these plants and how to prevent it from spreading back into the

community. I think what happened is they wrote it all up and somebody in

the agency clearly took a pen to make it seem like, well, but you don`t

really have to do it. This is voluntary.


And I think there`s a real price to pay for this kind of – I would call it

government malfeasance, for OSHA not to just take these guidelines and make

them mandatory, that you have to redo your production lines so workers are

six feet apart. You can`t make them work shoulder to shoulder, thousands

and thousands of workers lining up along metal tables in these cold, wet,

noisy conditions. You know, everybody making 10,000 cuts a day.


CDC actually recommended that they restructure them, that workers don`t

work on both sides of these tables, that they work six feet apart, that

they build tents for the break rooms so thousands of workers don`t all go

to break at once. You know, the meatpacking industry, on a normal day,

workers don`t have time to go to the bathroom. So, it`s really having to

change the way they do business and slow down line.


And, you know, I just think from the top, they don`t want to give employers

any responsibility for protecting workers. And in the end, this is just

going to create a second wave. It`s going to defeat the whole purpose of

trying to spread – I mean, prevent the spread of this disorder. And it`s a

really stunning, stunning development.


MADDOW: Debbie Berkowitz of the National Employment Law Project, former

senior policy adviser for OSHA – Ms. Berkowitz, thank you so much for your

time tonight. Obviously, we`ll stay on this story. We`re trying to figure

out what`s going on with CDC in particular on this, but we`d love to have

you back as this story progresses. Thank you.


BERKOWITZ: Thank you so much.


MADDOW: All right. We`ve got much more to come here tonight. Stay with us.




MADDOW: Even from a distance, you can see why protesters showed up this

weekend outside the state prison in Marion, Ohio, the Marion Correctional



Supporters of the people living inside that prison held signs like “inmates

have rights” and “not a death sentence.” It`s all because of this. The

shocking numbers of coronavirus cases that have been reported out of that

facility. The 2,500 men who are incarcerated inside that Marion prison,

2,500, of them, more than 2,000 have tested positive, over 80 percent of

the prisoners there.


Among the staff, there`s 169 people who have tested positive already as

well. At another state prison nearby in Pickaway, Ohio, more than 1,500

prisoners have tested positive. That`s roughly three quarters of the

population there.


But yet at another prison in the same state, Elkton Federal Prison in Ohio,

there are seven prisoners who have died there already. About somehow the

prison at Elkton has confirmed only 52 cases.


Wait, Marion and Pickaway have 1,500, 2,000 cases. This other prison in

Ohio has only 52 cases with all these people dead already. That seems

abnormally low. Until you realize, less that 100 of the in hundred inmates

at Elkton have been tested because they`re testing in the state prisons in

Ohio but they`re really not testing in the federal prisons.


The pattern for this virus is developing in a hurry. Any prison not doing

wide-scale testing like the Elkton federal prison in Ohio, is putting out

numbers that simply aren`t believable. Any prison that is doing universal

testing is turning up numbers that astonish.


At that Ohio state facility in Marion where, again, over 80 percent of the

prisoners tested positive, 95 percent of those positive cases were men who

were asymptomatic. So the virus is there churning through our prisons

regardless of whether we care enough or can get enough tests to find it.

So, yes, you are going to see protests from family members like the one in

Marion, Ohio, this weekend because not only is the virus tearing through

that facility, it also inevitably leaves the prison and creates a problem

in the surrounding community, I mean to the point that Marion, Ohio, is now

number one on “The New York Times” list of the worst outbreaks in the

country, with 32,000 cases for every 1,000 people in the county.


It really is an everywhere problem. In southern Michigan, for example, the

state prison in Lakeland, Michigan, just announced the death of its 12th

prisoner. Lakeland is also the first prison in Michigan to test all of its

prisoners in that facility. There`s about 1,400 men in that facility. More

than 50 percent have now tested positive for coronavirus, with implications

not just for the prisoners but for the people who would there and the

families they go home to and the rest of the community in which they live.


We are not yet starting to fix this. It is only even in the places that we

are testing this that we are able to start to recognize the magnificent

size of this problem. When does this get fixed?


Michigan`s senior senator joins us live here, next.




MADDOW: When a response to a global pandemic is as cartoonishly botched as

this government is, when it`s that bad, you don`t really need to do much,

to dress up much in order to get the point across. You can just state the

facts and have a big-voiced guy same them to your ad music.




AD ANNOUNCER: And now he has. The United States leads the world in

coronavirus cases. More than 50,000 Americans dead, twice as many deaths as

any other country. Over 26 million people have lost their jobs.


And it`s only getting worse. Downplaying the threat, ignoring the experts,

refusing to prepare. Donald Trump is failing America.




MADDOW: The way that started, the way the clip in, you actually missed the

first little bit of it, which started with: Donald Trump said he would put

America first, and now he has. The United States leads the world in

coronavirus cases.


That whole America first slogan not aging well obviously in this time, but

that`s a new ad from the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA that is

apparently going to run across three key battleground states that President

Trump won in 2016 where the good people who live there have been hit hard

by the coronavirus crisis – Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.

Pennsylvania and Michigan both rank in the top ten in terms of states with

the most coronavirus cases already.


Nationwide, the average daily percent increase in cases is just shy of 2.5

percent. Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin all beat that right now,

which is bad in terms of the increasing size of their epidemics. But like

you saw in the ad, you don`t really need to weaponize or dress up the

president and the administration`s failed response and how it`s costing

American lives.


You just tell it, right? You just state the facts. Just ask the people of

Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and Michigan.


Joining us now is Senator Debbie Stabenow of the great state of Michigan.

She is the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, which puts her

in a really important job right now.


Senator Stabenow, it`s really nice to see you. Thanks for being here



SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW (D-MI): It`s great to be with you, Rachel.


And I just personally want to thank you for lifting up the issues on

meatpacking plants and all of the other worker safety issues and testing

issues in prisons. And your voice is really important at this time.


MADDOW: Well, that`s very kind of you to say. Well, let me – let me get

your top-line reaction, especially because of your intense involvement in

agriculture issues. The president tonight has signed this executive order.

It compels meat processing plants to stay open or to reopen even though so

many of them have shut at least temporarily.




MADDOW: Thousands of meat processing workers have been infected on the job.


What do you make of this move by the president?


STABENOW: Well, it`s stunning in what it doesn`t do, right? And that`s what

you have been talking about tonight. If we want our meatpacking plants to

be safe, our workers have to be safe, period. And so, he doesn`t use the

Defense Production Act to make sure we have materials, to make sure we have

testing kits and reagents so that we can do the tests to make sure that we

can protect Americans or to make sure we have the protective equipment that

we need in our country. That`s what we should be doing is making those

things in America.


Instead, he uses it to compel meatpacking plants to be open, in part to

give some liability protection for the owners of the plants – let`s be

honest about that – and I want them to be opened. But he doesn`t do the

piece that keeps it open, which is requiring testing, requiring aggressive

protective equipment, requiring OSHA standards, all the things that

actually would protect people.


So, now, we know at least 20 lives have been lost in meatpacking plants

alone. We know that over 5,000 people in fact have been infected, and they

go home at night, you know, as we all know. They`re going back to their

families, back to their communities. Many small towns in rural communities

where their health care system, their hospitals are very fragile by just

the nature of being in small towns.


And so, it`s devastating what`s happening, and they could do it the right

way. We need the food supply. We need the plants open. But we need people`s

lives to be protected.


MADDOW: Do you agree with the expert that I spoke with earlier this hour

who said that this is basically a flip the light switch decision by the

administration, that if the secretary of labor, if Eugene Scalia said, hey,

the OSHA guidelines are mandatory, they`re not just suggestions, they`re

not just guidance.




MADDOW: You have to do them. That meatpacking plants would be required to

meet those standards in order to open back up. It seems like it`s not a

logistics issue or an “it`s too hard” issue. It`s a lack – a lack of will.

All they`d have to do is decide to do it, and those things would be



STABENOW: You`re absolutely right. And I do have to say, I always agree

with Debbies whenever I have the opportunity to do that, but – from one

Debbie to another.


But in all seriousness, OSHA requirements, they can put in place right

away. CDC, usually not optional. It`s usually not a maybe, if you feel like



And also, we have meat inspectors to go into the plants every day. If the

USDA meat inspector does not go in the plant, the plant can`t operate. And

so, there are multiple ways to basically say to the plants, you have to

follow standards to be able to be open.


And let me stress again, Rachel, it`s not that I want them to close.

Heavens no. We have enough challenges in our food supply system right now

with our bulk suppliers, you know, not having markets with restaurants and

fast food and all of the other markets that are really shutting down for

them at the moment.


So I want it to be open, but not at the expense of people`s lives. You

know, in the United States of America, that should not be the choice, and

that`s what I am extremely upset about.


Thirty-five Senate colleagues, Democratic colleagues, and I sent a letter

last week to the secretary laying out what needed to be done, to protect

our food supply and to protect our workers. We`ve not yet received a

response, but instead what we get is they`re going to require the plants to

be open – which, by the way, they wouldn`t have to require them to be open

because the owners want them to be open. You require them to be open to

give them the overlay of liability protection.


And to do that without also requiring the plants to have to protect

workers, to test people, to have all of the other things in place that need

to be in place is what I find incredibly offensive.


MADDOW: Yes, especially because we`ve now lived through this real-time

experiment where we have seen in real life that these plants are places

where thousands of Americans, thousands of people get infected on the job

unless things radically change.


Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan – Senator, I really appreciate you

making the time to be here tonight. I know you and your colleagues will be

back to Washington soon with all that fraught – all that fraught travel.


Thanks for being here. I appreciate it.


STABENOW: You`re welcome.


MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back.




MADDOW: One thing that we`re going to be watching for in tomorrow`s news,

early in the morning tomorrow, we`re going to have the first quarter GDP

estimate released, that`s economic growth for the first quarter of this

year, it will be a negative number, which is scary enough.


The worst of the great recession put GDP growth at almost negative 4

percent. Tomorrow could turn out to be significantly worse than that. Those

numbers should come out at 8:30 Eastern Time tomorrow. We`ll be watching

for that early in the morning.


And I have just one tiny last piece of important news before we go tonight.

I need to say happy birthday to Susan`s mom, who is 90 years old today,

strong as an ox, as wonderful and terrifying as to me as she was the first

day I was so nervous to meet her more than 20 something years ago now.

Happy birthday. Happy birthday.


All right. That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.




Good evening, Lawrence.







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