Workers at Risk in Meatpacking Plants

Workers at Risk in Meatpacking PlantsShoddy Working Conditions

As a second wave of the coronavirus has forced cities and states to close, meatpacking plants and other essential industries are slated to continue operations. Recently, Tyson has suspended meat plant managers accused in court of participating in a betting pool of how many workers would be infected with COVID-19, occurring earlier this year. At the Waterloo, Iowa pork processing plant, five workers died in the outbreak, according to information in two wrongful death lawsuits.[1] Conditions at the plant were subpar; employees were told to ignore COVID/flu-like symptoms and report to work. Employees were crowded “elbow to elbow, most without face coverings”, and at one point, 1,000 of 2,800 workers were infected.[2] One worker even vomited on the production line and came to work the next day.[3]

The Road Ahead

Conditions at meatpacking plants will be kept a closer eye on during a second wave. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union states that, at a minimum, 122 meatpacking workers have died due to COVID-19.[4] The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited a meatpacking plant, JBS USA, in Greeley Colorado, for failing to “protect workers” from the virus.[5] Although it varies state by state, it is difficult for meatpacking workers to file and win workers’ compensation suits, due to the existing burden of proof on the employee that they contracted COVID-19 during work.[6]

No Time Off

Due to the nature of work in these facilities, airborne viruses can travel and expose many employees. Workers in this industry infected with COVID-19 have been forced to continue working or risk losing their job, without time off. The potential for physical injury is heightened during such circumstances, as symptoms include nausea and confusion. Handling heavy machinery requires alertness, which is not guaranteed if a person is sick. Judgment may be impaired.  The workers’ compensation system was designed for “factory accidents, not airborne illnesses”.[7] Even so, factory accidents may be more likely to occur while working with an airborne illness.

[1] Dorning, Mike. “Tyson Suspends Meat Plant Managers Accused of COVID Betting Pool.” Insurance Journal, Wells Media Group, Inc., 20 Nov. 2020, www.insurancejournal.com/news/national/2020/11/20/591414.htm.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Hals, Tom, and Tom Polansek. “Meat Plant Workers Being Denied Workers’ Compensation for COVID-19: Reuters.” Insurance Journal, Wells Media Group, Inc., 29 Sept. 2020, www.insurancejournal.com/news/national/2020/09/29/584437.htm.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] IbId.

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