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“Get Back to Work, Even if It Might Kill You”

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Leading Voices Condemn Trump Meat Processing Executive Order

Are Trump and the Republican Party more concerned about corporate profits than worker safety? Look no further than the dramatic developments in the supply chain that brings meat to American tables.

Yesterday, we highlighted how Trump’s new executive order is forcing meat processing workers back to their jobs despite the unsafe conditions and mounting infections and death toll. In addition, for the next relief package, Republicans have prioritized granting legal liability protections for companies that do open up.

In response to this fusion of plutocracy and nativism, Frank Sharry said, “Trump sees business owners as his people and he sees a diverse group of workers as expendable. The is a Dickensian and disturbing distillation of Trump’s worldview. Ordering white, black, Latino and Asian workers to risk their lives so he can gain politically and his business friends can earn profits captures the essence of his corrupt and cruel presidency.”

An array of voices and observers are making similar observations:

  • Raul Reyes in CNN, “Trump treats meatpacking workers as disposable”: “Get back to work, says President Trump. He might as well add: even if it might kill you … Given that meat processing plants are Covid-19 hotspots, this order is the height of irresponsibility and cruelty. It endangers the health of some of America’s most vulnerable workers, many of whom are Latino, African American and immigrants. It prioritizes corporate interests over workers’ lives. Sadly, to this President, immigrant labor is clearly disposable — and always useful for political gain.”
  • The New York Times op-ed by slaughterhouse worker Carmen Dominguez, “Two of My Colleagues Died of Covid-19”: On a normal day, work at a meatpacking plant is not easy … In the past month, two of my co-workers died from Covid-19. The company instituted protective measures, but it was too late. The virus spread quickly through our communities. I work in a plant with 1,400 employees. A majority of us are immigrants. Company-wide communications are translated into Spanish, Arabic and Haitian Creole. Our work is essential to feeding the nation, yet plants like mine have become hot spots for the virus. On Tuesday, President Trump said that he would declare meat processing plants ‘critical infrastructure’ to avoid a shortage in the supply chain.”
  • Paul Waldman in his Washington Post column, “Trump’s latest executive order highlights our inequality crisis”: “President Trump has a message for workers in the meatpacking industry: We hope you don’t die or anything, but your health and safety is less important than our need for meat. So get back to work.”
  • The United Food and Commercial Workers Union President Mark Perrone issued a statement, saying in part, “America’s meatpacking workers and our nation’s food supply are in greater danger every day that companies and leaders fail to act during this outbreak. It is clear that our food supply chain is threatened, and that is why our country’s elected and corporate leaders must act now… Meatpacking companies must increase transparency around their safety efforts to ensure that meatpacking workers, elected leaders, and the communities they serve know exactly what steps they are taking to keep workers safe and our food supply secure.
  • Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, told Bloomberg Law, “We only wish that this administration cared as much about the lives of working people as it does about meat, pork and poultry products. If they can’t be assured of their safety, they have every right to make their concerns heard by their employers.”

  • For a Popular Information article titled “Meatheads,” Judd Legume wrote, “If all these meat processing facilities keep operating at full capacity, more workers will get sick. But, if the companies are sued for exposing workers to unsafe conditions, the companies can use Trump’s executive order as a defense. The companies could argue that they had no choice but to keep operating, whether or not they could do so safely, because they were ordered to stay open by Trump. Experts believe that this argument would constitute a ‘solid’ defense to any lawsuit. ‘Sending workers back to meat-processing plants without proper protection is tantamount to a death sentence,’ the Environmental Working Group, a research group, said.”
  • The Sioux City Journal reported the death of 64 year-old meatpacker Raymundo Corral. His wife, Anna Bell, told the Journal, “[H]er husband started feeling ill about two weeks ago, but he continued to report to duty at the sprawling plant, which employs about 4,300. Despite reporting symptoms of the virus, he was never tested before he died, she said.”

If you missed yesterday’s press teleconference with poultry plant workers from North Carolina and religious and rural leaders on what meat and poultry workers are facing during the Covid-19 crisis, a press release with quotes and a recording of the call is here. The call was hosted by Church World Service, RuralOrganizing.org, National Farm Worker Ministry, and America’s Voice.