Why these meatpacking workers fear for their health and safety amid COVID-19

 

By Fred de Sam Lazaro, PBS News Hour

Jun 24, 2020

 

Many U.S. meatpacking plants shut down this spring due to coronavirus outbreaks. Nationwide, more than 27,000 workers have become infected, and nearly 100 have died. But in late April, President Trump ordered the facilities to stay open, deeming them critical to preserving the nationís meat supply. Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports on the experiences of some of these workers.

 

Read the Full Transcript

 

Judy Woodruff:

 

It has been nearly six weeks since production resumed in most meatpacking plants across the country. Many were shut down amid coronavirus outbreaks. More than 27,000 workers have become infected, and 99 have died.

 

In late April, President Trump ordered plants to reopen or remain open, calling them critical infrastructure to preserve the nation's meat supply.

 

Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro returns to one community in Minnesota where a pork processing plant is back online.

 

Fred de Sam Lazaro:

 

Here in the Fabled Valley, the Jolly Green Giant stands tall and now even masked, but it's actually pork, not peas, that reigns.

 

The huge meat processing plants are now nearly back at full capacity. But things are not exactly jolly.

 

Woman (through translator):

 

We're still going to have to keep working in fear, but we know that we need to continue working. We have no option.

 

Fred de Sam Lazaro:

 

In Worthington, Minnesota, population 13,000, the JBS factory was shuttered by a COVID outbreak that sickened hundreds of its 2,100 employees.

 

The effect was felt across this region, mostly at first among hog farmers in late April. Hundreds of thousands of their animals had to be euthanized.

 

David Bullerman:

 

It's devastating. I'd like President Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act of 1950. We need to get these plants open today.

 

Fred de Sam Lazaro:

 

Echoing farmer Dave Bullerman's plea, industry executives warned, the nation's meat supply was threatened, a claim some analysts now say was exaggerated, noting that, in April, there were record pork exports to China.

 

President Donald Trump:

 

I should be signing that over the next hour or so.

 

Fred de Sam Lazaro:

 

But, on April 28, President Trump did order meatpacking plants to reopen and remain open, declaring them critical infrastructure.

 

President Donald Trump:

 

Taking the liability, which frees up the entire system.

 

Fred de Sam Lazaro:

 

The president said his move shielded companies from liability if their workers got sick.

 

Back in Worthington, community organizer Jessica Velasco says the plight of workers never seemed a priority.

 

Jessica Velasco:

 

Folks started talking about the hog farms that were losing money. The bigger issue than was them euthanizing all those poor hogs.

 

The conversation should have been, how can we support both the JBS employees and the hog producers?

 

Fred de Sam Lazaro:

 

She says the employees, predominantly refugees and immigrants, remain largely invisible and fearful. She says many lost trust in the company because of the way it acted as more and more workers fell ill, leading the plant to shut down.

 

Rafael, like all workers we spoke with, asked to remain ANONYMOUS.

 

Rafael (through translator):

 

They told the workers not to worry, everything was OK. To be honest, they were not prepared at all. Nothing was OK. That's where many became scared, and it was kind of you either work or you don't eat situation.

 

Fred de Sam Lazaro:

 

more, including video report [6:14 min.]   

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/why-these-meatpacking-workers-fear-for-their-health-and-safety-amid-covid-19

 

 

Latino group says $5 million gift to Iowa cities should go to workers who have gotten sick

 

Donnelle Eller, Des Moines Register (IA)

Jun 24, 2020

 

JBS will donate $5 million to three Iowa cities where its meatpacking plants employ nearly 5,000 workers ó funding that local leaders welcome but that a Latino group says would be better spent helping workers struggling with massive medical bills after contracting COVID-19 in the company's facilities.

 

JBS USA says it will give the money to Ottumwa and Marshalltown, where it has pork processing plants, and Council Bluffs, where it has two facilities that make Plumrose bacon and deli meats.

 

Nationally, it plans to spend $50 million nationally to help communities where it has plants, part of an initiative called Hometown Strong.

 

The company said it would partner with local leaders to determine the most "impactful use of the money," possibly "infrastructure projects, food relief and coronavirus response efforts."

 

Joe Enriquez Henry, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens' Des Moines council, said the money should go first to "offset medical expenses of workers who have fallen ill due to the virus."

 

JBS said its health insurance plan covers up to 90% of medical costs, including any COVID-19 related costs.

 

But Henry said bills can run into tens of thousands of dollars when workers stricken with the virus must be hospitalized, and paying even a portion of those charges can be an extreme burden for families.

 

For example, Henry said, the family of Jose Andrade-Garcia, a JBS worker who was close to retiring from the Marshalltown plant when he died of COVID-19, needed to hold a fundraiser to help cover his medical and funeral costs.

 

JBS isn't addressing "the high costs that workers have had to pay because of the infections," he said. "Workers have been infected, and their families have been infected."

 

About 3,340 meatpacking plant workers have tested positive for the virus in Iowa, and at least seven workers have died.

 

Iowa cities and towns with meatpacking plants have the highest per-capita rates of people testing positive for COVID-19, Iowa Department of Public Health's data show. The top 10 counties all have meatpacking plants...

 

... JBS said its efforts include hiring more than 1,000 new team members to provide additional sanitation and cleaning and to provide education, training and enforcement of COVID-19 preventive measures.

 

In contrast to Henry's misgivings, mayors in Council Bluffs and Marshalltown welcomed the JBS donation...

 

more, including links 

https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/money/agriculture/2020/06/24/latino-group-workers-coronavirus-need-money-donated-cities/3250695001/