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MAJ Wins Preliminary Injunction Against Meat Processing Plant Violating COVID-19 Worker Safety Protocols

Posted On: February 1, 2021

We are proud to update you that on January 29, 2021, MAJ Attorneys Gary Messing, Monique Alonso, and Laurie Burgess secured a preliminary injunction against Foster Poultry Farms to protect workers at its Livingston plant represented by the United Farm Workers (“UFW”). This ruling comes hot on the heels of the Merced County Superior Court’s historic action on December 23, 2020, when it issued the first temporary restraining order (“TRO”) in the nation to compel a meat processing plant to adhere to COVID-19 workplace safety protocols.

Following the second COVID-19 outbreak at the plant, UFW brought this lawsuit along with two individual plant employees who bravely stepped forward on behalf of their coworkers. MAJ and the law firm of Martínez Aguilasocho & Lynch APC jointly represent the plaintiffs in United Farm Workers of America, et al. vs. Foster Poultry Farms(Case No. 20-CV-03605), with Monique Alonso as lead counsel. Appellate specialist Jon B. Eisenberg, Esq. is also on the legal team.

Despite changing judges after issuing the TRO, and Foster Farms filing an appeal, the court confirmed its prior conclusion that the plaintiffs had shown a likelihood of success in proving that Foster Farms has failed to comply with federal, state, and local COVID-19 worker safety protocols. The court’s preliminary injunction requires Foster Farms to comply with orders and safety protocols issued by the Merced County Public Health Officer that Foster Farms claims it has already implemented. The injunction will maintain the status quo as the lawsuit proceeds to trial.

Based on Foster Farms’ representations that it already has adequate safety measures in place, the court directly questioned Foster Farms’ attorney about what harm the company would suffer if the court issued the injunction. Unable to cite to a specific harm, Foster Farms argued that “it is a matter of principle” and objected to “an extra layer of oversight” for COVID-19 safety at the Livingston plant. Presented with the competing risk of illness and death to workers and their families and communities, the court reasonably concluded that "principle" cannot outweigh the profound risk faced by unprotected employees, and so imposed the injunction.

Foster Farms also objected to the court including contract workers at the Livingston plant within the scope of the injunction. But the court denied this objection as well, explaining, “If I fail to address everyone at the plant, then everything the court is doing is for naught.” The court’s conclusion is both logical and appropriate in light of the hundreds of Foster Farms workers that have contracted COVID-19 and the nine plant workers that have died.

The court will issue its final order shortly. A copy of the tentative ruling granting the preliminary injunction may be found here.

If you have any questions about this alert, please contact Monique Alonso in our San Francisco office or Gary Messing in our Sacramento office.

© Messing Adam & Jasmine LLP