The Pandemic’s Toll on Meatpacking Workers

Colorado reported its first confirmed case of the virus on March 5. The firm determined to require masks on March 19. By March 24, at the very least one employee was within the hospital.

Stacey’s daughter began asking her questions on what would occur if she obtained sick. She informed her they must isolate from one another. Meanwhile, on the plant, employees had been left at the hours of darkness. When administration posted notices, some could be solely in English, though lots of the plant employees converse different languages.

As the circumstances on the plant grew into the handfuls, employees stopped exhibiting up as a result of they had been afraid of getting sick or spreading the virus. Management on the Brazilian-owned firm informed them {that a} statewide stay-at-home order didn’t apply to them.

“People from the plant weren’t serving to us,” Stacey mentioned. “They had been saying the plant wasn’t going to shut. We requested for face masks, they usually mentioned we did not have to fret as a result of the folks that obtained sick weren’t in our shift.”

Stacey mentioned the corporate did not present her with protecting gear till simply earlier than the county well being division got here for a go to, in April. The well being division warned JBS that it wasn’t assured the corporate was taking sufficient measures to guard its employees and {that a} work-while-sick tradition was contributing to the unfold of the illness.

After the native well being division ordered the plant to shut, JBS utterly shut down on April 15. Across the nation, different vegetation had been shutting down, too: By the top of April, 12 of Nebraska’s meat-processing vegetation had 588 confirmed circumstances, two Iowa amenities had 377 circumstances, and 5 Wisconsin vegetation had 389 circumstances.

Soon, at the very least 20 meatpacking vegetation had been shuttered throughout the nation.

JBS promised that it could check all of its workers earlier than the plant reopened. President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence acknowledged the JBS outbreak of their day by day coronavirus briefing on April 10, saying that they had been working to ship checks to Colorado.

But the checks by no means materialized. On April 23, JBS introduced it was reopening with lower than 24 hours’ discover.

Four days after Stacey went again to work, President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act, a Korean War–period regulation that permits the president to require trade to behave within the service of nationwide curiosity. The factories had been declared important infrastructure and had been compelled to stay open. The transfer denied native well being authorities, like those in Greeley, of one among their greatest technique of stopping outbreaks of their communities—closing the vegetation. Although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a authorities company tasked with regulating American workplaces, issued tips about defending employees in the course of the pandemic, the suggestions weren’t obligatory in follow, and the Department of Labor mentioned it could contemplate siding with meat processors in the event that they had been sued by employees who obtained sick. On September 11, OSHA fined JBS $15,615 for failing to guard employees.



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