In late April, President Trump ordered that meatpacking plants reopen after they were shut down because of COVID-19. He is more concerned about the companies’ profits than workers’ lives.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 5,000 plant workers in 19 states had tested positive for COVID-19 as of April 27. Other estimates put the total at close to 12,000 with more than 50 deaths. The CDC says that normal conditions in meatpacking and poultry plants clearly spread the disease.
Workers are not accepting these risks lying down. Large numbers of workers have walked off the job or refused to go to work in meatpacking plants in at least Iowa, South Dakota, Georgia, California, South Carolina, and Nebraska.
These are some of the most dangerous places to work even in normal times. Workers stand in long production lines right next to each other, using sharp-bladed tools with the lines moving fast. Temperatures are kept cold and ventilators keep air moving fast to keep meat from being contaminated by germs and viruses. These factors are a breeding ground for infection. Meanwhile, the fast pace of work has workers breathing hard. All this can lead to lung issues and even pneumonia.
Social distancing in the plants and improving other conditions for workers, like slowing down the production lines and moderating the temperature and ventilation, will cut into the companies’ profits. And the bosses (and Trump) don’t care. In fact, many meatpacking workers are recent immigrants, whose lives have no value for the profiteers except their ability to work.
The meatpacking and poultry industries are horrific for the animals. They are also terrible for the humans who work there, even in normal times. COVID-19 just adds to the horror. Workers and their families and communities deserve safe and decent working conditions, with or without a pandemic. It’s time to send the bosses and their politicians packing!