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A Death Sentence For Meatpackers – OpEd

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By Jill Richardson*

Meat processing plants are high risk for spreading COVID-19, and many are shutting down. Animals due for processing have nowhere to go, and they are being culled.

Workers there aren’t treated a great deal better.

I’ve interviewed one meatpacker who worked at a pork plant, years ago. He told me he was recruited with promises of good wages and benefits, but when he got there, those benefits were unattainable.

He described long hours doing repetitive work quickly, and everyone having debilitating repetitive stress injuries. He told me he has a bladder condition and he was not allowed to go to the bathroom, so he wet his pants. Twice. A grown man.

His supervisors then suspected he was drunk, and of course he wasn’t.

His story squares with Eric Schlosser’s depictions in Fast Food Nation. Meatpacking plants are dangerous, exploitative workplaces that often prey on vulnerable populations like immigrants and people of color. Schlosser shows how meatpacking plants moved to rural areas from the cities and attracted marginalized groups as labor.

Our supply chain relies on meatpacking plants and their workers, and right now working could risk peoples’ lives. More than 4,400 workers have the coronavirus and 18 have died.

Yet Donald Trump now plans to order meatpacking plants to stay open and shield them from liability for workers becoming infected with COVID-19 on the job.

I care about the economy a lot — I’m finishing a PhD and worried about job prospects. But this is essentially saying that meatpacking plants are so critical that it’s okay if their workers die from a disease acquired on the job.

It seems like one of the Trump administration’s primary responses to the pandemic is using it as an excuse to cut regulations, like environmental protections — or in this case, the right to a safe and healthy workplace.

AP News reports “Citing Virus, EPA Has Stopped Enforcing Environmental Laws.” CNN says “Trump Administration is Rushing to Gut Environmental Protections.”

They’re using the pandemic as a Trojan horse to usher in all kinds of environmental and labor deregulation.

The question is: How do we balance what the economy needs to function, the American people’s need for food, farmers and ranchers’ need for markets, and workers’ need for jobs with everyone’s — especially the workers’ — need to slow the spread of the coronavirus to save lives?

Those are the questions a responsible government would be asking. Instead, ours is using it as a power grab to do what they’ve always wanted to do anyway.

*OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is pursuing a PhD in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Distributed by OtherWords.org.


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Other Words

OtherWords distributes commentary and cartoons aimed at amplifying progressive analysis in the national conversation. It empowers readers to become more engaged citizens.

One thought on “A Death Sentence For Meatpackers – OpEd

  • Avatar
    April 30, 2020 at 4:04 pm
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    Nothing is a new. The USA have been in wars since 1945 and millions of people have been killed. US soldiers were sacrificed in order for some corporations to make super-profits of these wars. Majority of the American People were supporting these wars according to the published statistics. But when US soldiers died in large numbers, the American people did change thier supports such as in Iraq War and Vietnam War.
    Currently, some US farmers have been destroying their products. Some other People are in need for these products. Still, the products destroyed. This procedure is about making money profits.
    Similarly, Meat workers have been forced by the President of the country to go back and work to provide food for the people. But their process is so crowded that Coronavirus can be transmitted. Some if not most inficted workers will die. It is not about providing food to people to eat; rather, it is about the continuation of making profits. Profit making cannot be discontinued.
    Another similar case, when some politicians suggested that Grandma has to die for the prosperity of the stock market, which is more returns.
    I feel sorry about the working people and all those who have died due to Coronavirus. For workers, I am sure a large percentage of workers are elderly and some do have conditions such as diabetes and blood pressure and more. These conditions are easily found with the working people because American capitalism contributes to the creation of these conditions.
    In short, US predatory capitalism has no values to human life.

    Reply

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