Organizations, advocates send letter to governor regarding frontline plant worker protection

Local News

Dozens of South Dakota organizations and people are asking the governor to take part in a meeting to help protect people of color and frontline workers.

The letter was emailed to Governor Kristi Noem’s office Thursday morning.

According to the latest census data, more than 80 percent of the state’s population is white, but more that half of COVID-19 cases have been in minority groups, according to the SD Department of Health.

Taneeza Islam calls herself an advocate for justice for communities of color.

She’s the executive director of South Dakota Voices for Peace.

“COVID-19 is just ravaging through communities of color in our state,” South Dakota Voices for Peace Executive Director Taneeza Islam said.

She’s one of the people asking the governor to meet with advocates for communities of color, and Smithfield workers.

During Thursday’s news conference, the governor said she had just received the letter.

“We will certainly be following up with them and seeing what we can facilitate,” South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said.

The letter also makes several other requests, including giving the state health department the power to enforce the workplace safety recommendations from the CDC.

“They’re great recommendations, and if those are implemented and followed through we would feel confident that that was a safe environment for employees to go back to,” Islam said.

The state secretary of health pointed out the guidance from the CDC is written as recommendations and considerations. She says they aren’t requirements.

“We will continue to work with Smithfield and other employers on doing what makes sense for them to keep their workers safe and make sure they have the equipment they need to stay safe from COVID,” South Dakota Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon said.

Islam says the time is now for this conversation.

“We are part of the state, and no one seems to really be listening and engaging and understanding what our communities are going through right now,” Islam said.

Governor Noem says they’re currently having conversations about President Trump’s executive order to keep meat processing plants open and what it means for the facility.

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