Meat Company Fired Over 20 Workers for Demanding COVID Protections, Activists Say
The Strauss Brands sign outside the meat processing company's Franklin headquarters. (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)

Voces de la Frontera demands the workers be reinstated.

Strauss Brands, a meat processing company headquartered in the Milwaukee suburb of Franklin, fired over 20 employees after they demanded safer working conditions during the coronavirus pandemic, according to worker and immigrant advocacy group Voces de la Frontera.

Voces de la Frontera Executive Director Christina Neumann-Ortiz alleges in a letter to the company that Strauss wrongfully terminated the employees after receiving so-called Social Security No-Match Letters, which are sent to employers when the Social Security Administration discovers an error in a worker’s Social Security Number. 

The letters specifically state employers “should not use this letter to take any adverse action against an employee, such as laying off, suspending, firing or discriminating against that individual” and that taking such action may “violate State or Federal law and subject you to legal consequences.”

“The SSNoMatch letter is being used as a tool for retaliation and prejudice against essential workers who are seeking protections on the job and to be treated with the dignity they deserve,” Neumann-Ortiz wrote.

The advocacy group said it filed an Occupational Safety and Health Administration complaint against Strauss on April 22 demanding proper social distancing at work stations, paid sick days for COVID-positive workers and those exposed, and for the company to inform its employees when they are exposed to an infected coworker.

The fired employees were reportedly 12- to 20-year veterans of the company. 

“The actions on the part of the company to fire (workers) who have been working there for 12-20 years, and have been working through this pandemic, can only be seen as retaliation intended to intimidate and punish workers for speaking up on their own behalf,” Neumann-Ortiz wrote. 

Neumann-Ortiz in her letter, sent Monday, gave Strauss 24 hours to reinstate the employees. It is unclear what other action Voces de la Frontera would take. The group did not respond to a request for an update on the situation.

Strauss did not respond to questions left in a voicemail and email from UpNorthNews about the allegations.

Voces de la Frontera was a key organization in bringing COVID-19 outbreaks in other Wisconsin meatpacking plants to light earlier this year. Nationwide, at least 33,500 meat facility employees had contracted coronavirus as of July 17, according to an ongoing project by the Midwest Center for Investigative Journalism.