For Immediate Release
Monday, March 22, 2021
Civil Rights Delegation Stands in Solidarity with Georgia Immigrant Community Following Deadly Foundation Food Group Poultry Plant Chemical Leak
Labor delegation joins faith, community, and political leaders on two-month anniversary of accident
Washington, D.C. – The Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), a trusted Latino grassroots labor group advocating for workers’ rights and the intersectional issues they face, is sending a delegation Tuesday to Gainesville, Georgia to stand in solidarity with local communities and civil rights organizations following a fatal accident at a nearby poultry plant in January.
The delegation, led by LCLAA leaders, includes representatives from the American Federation of Teachers, Georgia AFL-CIO, Southern Poverty Law Center and Georgia Familias Unidas who will meet with area community leaders, nonprofits and political officials to grieve the January nitrogen gas leak at Foundation Food Group that claimed the life of six workers, sent 12 to area hospitals and endangered the lives of 130 workers. The majority of the region’s poultry workers are Latino.
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and local authorities continue to investigate the chemical leak.
Civil rights groups continue to call for accountability and additional safeguards for the plant and its workers to keep the majority-immigrant community safe. The accident occurred during a global pandemic that continues to hit the Latino, Black and Asian communities hardest.
“Our nation’s poultry industry workforce deserves stronger worker protections,” said Yanira Merino, National President of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA). “Safety in their workplace shouldn’t be a question – no one should lose their life providing for their families. Our frontline workers are already facing disproportionate risks due to Covid-19. Employers and government agencies must ensure the health and safety of workers.”
“Foundation Food Group has had multiple opportunities to do the right thing for the six lives we’ve lost and for the hundreds of employees who survived,” said Maria Rosario Palacios, Georgia Familias Unidas Director. “Instead, they’ve exploited the vulnerability of their immigrant employees to leave them without wages and avoid taking personal responsibility for their own negligence. This is not the act of a socially responsible business, let alone the acts of humane leadership. We hope that our new United States Senators for and President Biden’s administration, whom many immigrant working families voted for, will ensure that Gainesville soon has relief from the remaining health and financial crisis survivors are still facing.”
“Safety at work is a basic right that’s far too often ignored or downplayed—with horrific consequences.” said Fedrick C. Ingram, Secretary Treasurer for the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). “We grieve with the families of those that lost their lives at Foundation Food Group. Now is always the right moment for change, and that means eradicating unsafe conditions, especially for our Latino brothers and sisters who do not feel comfortable speaking up for themselves for fear of retribution. I stand in solidarity with each organization and demand that the correct safeguards be immediately put in place to ensure the protection of each and every worker regardless of the industry. Healthcare workers, first responders and essential workers like meat packing plant workers deserve to be respected and protected. We demand OSHA to do its job.”
“As a mother, grandmother, and woman of faith, the explosion at the Foundation Food Group poultry processing facility rocked me to the core,” said Evelyn DeJesus, Executive Vice President for the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). “We must think about how we treat others and support those who have risked their lives to put food on our tables during a global pandemic, who were overworked and underpaid, and who already feared for their lives due to the rise of Covid-19 infection rates in communities of color. We grieve those six lives lost in January and demand that the responsible parties be held accountable for what happened. How can we not support them while egregious labor violations of safety standards continue to go unchecked?”
“What happened on January 28, 2021 is emblematic of a history of the mistreatment and abuse faced by Georgia’s workers in unsafe working conditions,” said Charlie Flemming, President of the Georgia AFL-CIO. “No one should go to work in fear for their lives. The horrific incident at the Foundation Food Group poultry processing facility underscores the dire need for increased worker protections in Georgia’s agricultural sector, namely the protections offered by a union. Labor unions don’t just offer the opportunity to bargain for better wages and benefits — they offer a collective voice to stand up for safety and protections on the job.”
“It is a complete and utter tragedy that six workers at a poultry facility in Gainesville, Georgia never returned home to their families on the night January 28th after a nitrogen leak. The health and safety of workers must be a top priority at poultry plants, the same plants that are providing essential food on dinner tables in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Edgar Fields, President of the Southeast Council of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which represents thousands of poultry workers across the South. “Had simple safety protocols been followed today workers’ lives wouldn’t have been on the line. The egregious, lack of standards at non-union facilities like the one in Gainesville cost essential workers their lives. We cannot allow this to continue to happen. Workers’ lives are not disposable. We stand with the workers at this facility and countless others who need worker-led health and safety committees, to prevent needless injuries, or as we tragically saw in January deaths.”
“Poder Latinx stands in solidarity with the communities and civil rights organizations calling for protection for our people. These essential workers help put food on the tables of millions of people across the nation and they deserve to have safety and security that allows them to return home to their families at the end of their shifts. The January event that caused these fatalities is not an isolated incident and that is completely unacceptable,” said Susana Durán, Poder Latinx Georgia’s State Director.
“LULAC is proud to join in solidarity with the Latino and BIPOC poultry workers of Georgia, an industry that daily generates more than 29,000,000 pounds of chicken and each year delivers a million dollars in revenue for 105 counties,” said Sindy Benavides, LULAC National Chief Executive Officer. “We are the backbone of this sector that also represents more than $3.3 billion dollars in local, state and federal taxes and employs well over 100,000 workers.”
Background: A live press conference will be held by the delegation at 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT on Tuesday at Interactive College of Technology – Gainesville, 2323 Browns Bridge Rd, Gainesville, GA. It will be live streamed on LCLAA’s Facebook page. A social distancing-friendly gathering will follow the press conference to support those affected by the tragedy.
Who: Jose Vargas, LCLAA Executive Director
Yanira Merino, LCLAA National President
Evelyn De Jesus, AFT Executive Vice President
Fedrick C. Ingram, AFT Secretary-Treasurer
Charlie Flemming, Georgia AFL-CIO President
Maria Rosario Palacios, Georgia Familias Unidas Director
Susana Duran, Poder Latinx Georgia State Director
Sindy Benavides, LULAC Chief Executive Officer
Southern Poverty Law Center Representative
An Undisclosed Worker will also join the delegation
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The Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) is a national 501(c)3 nonprofit Latino labor organization with 52 chapters across the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Our power is seen and felt through community advocacy, education, organizing, and engagement that elevates the social, political, and economic advancement of working families.