That is the gist of this story from ProPublica (a Leftwing publication), which reports on how the virus is creeping into slaughterhouses across the country.
However, meat industry reps are optimistic that the virus will not slow meat production and that the virus won’t end up in the food supply.
Longtime readers know that Big Meat has been changing America one town at a time as it relies heavily on immigrant and refugee labor and as such has been a favorite topic of mine here at RRW since 2008 when I first learned that Bill Clinton was helping supply his meatpacking buddies with refugee labor from Bosnia.
What Happens If Workers Cutting Up the Nation’s Meat Get Sick?
As meatpackers rush to meet demand, their employees are starting to get COVID-19. But some workers say they’re going to work ill because they don’t have paid sick days and can be penalized for staying home.
Here’s what has happened in the meatpacking industry in the last week alone:
A federal food safety inspector in New York City, who oversaw meat processing plants, died from the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
A poultry worker in Mississippi, employed by America’s third largest chicken company, tested positive for the virus, causing a half-dozen workers to self-quarantine. Another worker in South Dakota, employed by the world’s largest pork producer, also tested positive.
In Georgia, dozens of workers walked out of a Perdue Farms chicken plant, demanding that the company do more to protect them.
And Tyson Foods told ProPublica on Friday that “a limited number of team members” had tested positive for the disease.
As COVID-19 makes its way across the country, leading to panic grocery buying in state after state, the stresses on the nation’s food supply chain have ratcheted ever higher. But in industries like meatpacking, which rely on often grueling shoulder-to-shoulder work, so have the risks to workers’ health.
In interviews this week, meat and poultry workers, some in the country without authorization, noted with irony that they have recently been labeled “essential” by an administration now facing down a pandemic. Yet the rules of their workplaces — and the need to keep food moving — pressure them to work in close quarters, even when sick.
Many of the nation’s meatpackers declined to respond to specific questions about how they’ve dealt with infected workers or what they’ve done to try to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in their plants. Or they offered vague assurances that workers are being protected.
So far, only two meatpacking companies — Tyson Foods and Cargill — have announced companywide temperature checks to screen employees for signs of the virus. Two more say they have begun rolling them out.
But except for unionized plants, meat and poultry workers rarely get paid when they’re sick. At many companies, including Tyson, workers receive disciplinary points for calling in sick. Because points lead to termination, workers told ProPublica, they and some of their colleagues have continued to work even when sick, despite the coronavirus.
Even before the coronavirus, the meat industry had complained of a labor shortage as low pay and harsh conditions collided with a tight labor market, tighter borders and dramatic reductions by the Trump administration in the number of refugees, who make up the backbone of many plants’ workforce.
“Our primary focus is to keep our plants running so that we can feed America,” Tyson’s president, Dean Banks, said on CNN. “We’re running the plants as hard as we can.”
And some analysts note that even if an outbreak of the virus forced a plant to close, the industry — with more than 500,000 employees at 4,000 slaughterhouses and processing plants across the country — is big enough to absorb the loss.
There is much more, it is a long article, continue here.
In the summer of 2016 I traveled around the midwest and west to have a look at meatpacking towns and how the cheap labor demands of Big Meat were changing America.
If you can’t live without meat, my recommendation is to find a local producer so you know just where and how your food has been processed.
Note that I have a tag for COVID-19 posts here at RRW.
You might be interested in my previous post about Bowling Green, Kentucky and its newly unemployed refugees.