The U.S. company Tyson Foods Inc., among the largest beef, pork and chicken producers in the world, has been at the center of ongoing COVID-related outbreaks throughout the pandemic. Already by May, there were over 4,500 infected workers and 18 deaths at Tyson facilities. Tyson Foods is being sued for gross negligence by multiple workers and family members of workers who have died from COVID, all alleging that workers were forced to work long hours in cramped conditions without masks or protective equipment and with no social distancing between employees. Several complaints allege that management was instructed to lie to workers in order to cover up outbreaks at their facilities.
Another lawsuit alleges that USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) Food Safety inspectors were asked by Tyson upper management not to wear masks when they entered the facility because management “didn’t want to send the wrong message” to the workers.
And it gets worse — even as Tyson Foods’ latest financial results show that the company stands to make six percent more in 2020 than it did in 2019. At one Tyson facility, in Waterloo, Iowa, upper management and supervisors have been suspended for placing bets on which employees would contract the virus during an outbreak.
As horrifying as these allegations are, they are not surprising for an industry like meatpacking. Even without a pandemic, meatpacking workers have to endure long hours, working in dangerous conditions, and are three times more likely than the average worker to suffer serious injuries like amputations, fractured fingers, second-degree burns, and head trauma. There are an average of 17 severe injuries per month in U.S. meatpacking facilities, most of which involve the amputation of fingers, toes, hands, or arms. And many meatpacking companies, which frequently hire undocumented workers, have been known to call ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) to deport workers for speaking out about unsafe working conditions.
In meatpacking, workers are forced to risk their bodies and their lives on a daily basis so the company can make profits. Workers’ safety means nothing to these companies. This is just how capitalism works. The pandemic did not create these problems — it has just made them worse.