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Disgusting: HHS Secretary Azar Cravenly Claims Meatpacking Workers are to Blame for Outbreaks

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“Instead of protecting workers as if they are truly essential, Trump and his lackeys dehumanize them through their rhetoric and their policies.”

The linkage of “the other” and disease is a longstanding and sinister stereotype that has been used in past times of crisis to stoke xenophobia and incite violence. Unsurprisingly, the Trump administration has leaned hard into this approach for years. Now, at a time when the public health imperative is to pull together as one America, the Trump administration is turbocharging this linkage. They do so to deflect accountability for their stunning failure to protect us from the pandemic, at a cost of tens of thousands of lives.

Take what they’re doing and saying about the meatpacking industry. On a call with lawmakers, HHS Secretary Alex Azar had the audacity to say  that he believed the increased outbreaks at plants “were linked more to the ‘home and social’ aspects of workers’ lives rather than the conditions inside the facilities.” When asked what could be done to ensure that such essential workers continue to supply our food, he added, according to lawmakers on the call, that “one possible solution was to send more law enforcement to those communities to better enforce social distancing rules.”

Azar’s comments come on the heels of 1) Trump’s executive order forcing meatpacking plants to stay open despite mounting infections and deaths and unsafe working conditions; and 2) Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn announcing that their top priority in the next CARES package is to shield companies from legal liability from workers they expose to danger.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice

Azar’s comments are disgusting. According to him, essential workers who work in crowded conditions that spawn coronavirus hotspots are to blame for getting ill and dying. According to him, it’s not because of the lack of safety protections at the factories, it’s because of the way ‘they’ live. Left unsaid, but implied, is that workers, most of whom are people of color and immigrants, are uniquely susceptible to spreading disease.

Disgusting. Instead of forging unity, rallying the country and solving problems, this administration blames people of color and does the bidding of corporations. Instead of more accountability, more tests and safer working conditions, we get an administration that shifts the blame for getting ill and dying onto vulnerable workers and families. Instead of protecting workers as if they are truly essential, Trump and his lackeys dehumanize them through their rhetoric and their policies.