Report: At least 59,000 meat workers caught COVID, 269 died – Florence, South Carolina

Florence, South Carolina 2021-10-27 19:30:05 –

Omaha, Nebraska (AP) — At least 59,000 meat packaging workers were infected with COVID-19 and 269 when the virus struck the industry last year, according to a new U.S. House report released Wednesday. The worker died.

The meat packaging industry was one of the earliest epicenters of the coronavirus pandemic, with workers standing side by side along the production line. The US House of Representatives Selection Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis has examined internal documents from the five largest meat packaging companies. Protect their workers..

New estimates of infectious diseases in the industry are about three times higher than 22,400. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union Infected or exposed. In addition, corporate data typically did not include coronavirus cases confirmed by external tests or self-reports by employees, so the actual numbers could be even higher.

At the height of the outbreak in the spring of 2020, meat packaging production in the United States fell to about 60% of normal as some major factories. Forced to close temporarily For deep cleaning and safety upgrades, or when operating at low speeds due to labor shortages.According to the report The company was slow Take protective measures such as distributing protective equipment and installing barriers between workstations.

“Instead of addressing the clear signs that workers are infected with the coronavirus at an alarming rate due to the situation at the meat packing facility, meat packing companies prioritize profits and production over worker safety and viruses. Continued to adopt practices that lead to crowded facilities that spread easily. ”According to the report.

Martin Rosas, who represents the Kansas-based UFCW branch with more than 17,000 members in three states, said the union urged businesses to increase protection.

“The harsh reality is that many companies were slow to act early in the outbreak, and any progress achieved was due to unions demanding action,” Rosas said.

This report is based on documentation from JBS, Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods, Cargill and National Beef. Together, they dominate over 80% of the national beef market and over 60% of the pork market.

The North American Meat Research Institute industry group has defended the industry’s response to a pandemic. Cargill, Tyson, Smithfield and JBS also issued a statement Wednesday to proactively work to meet federal health and safety standards and protect employees by conducting extensive tests and requesting vaccinations. He said he had taken additional steps to do so.

“The health and safety of our team members has always been a top priority, and our response since the outbreak of the pandemic has invested more than $ 760 million to date, demonstrating our commitment. Has taken proactive action to keep the virus away from the facility and has adopted federal guidance and hundreds of safety measures that often exceed industry standards, “said JBS spokeswoman Nikki Richardson. ..

Both companies regret that the virus was sacrificed.

Gary Mickelson, a spokesman for Tyson, said, “Because even one COVID-19 has caused too much illness or loss of life, we have taken progressive steps to protect the health and safety of our workers since the beginning of the pandemic. I did. “

According to the report, infection rates were particularly high in some meat packaging plants from spring 2020 to early 2021. At the JBS plant in Hyrum, Utah, 54% of workers were infected with the virus. Almost 50% of workers at the Tyson plant in Amarillo, Texas were infected. In addition, 44% of employees at the National Beef factory in Tama, Iowa were infected with COVID-19.

Internal documents show Smithfield’s active opposition to government safety recommendations after a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expert inspected a pork factory in Sioux Falls, South Dakota after a major outbreak, according to the report. I am. A few days ago, Smithfield’s CEO emailed National Beef’s CEO, “Employees are afraid to come to work.”

Maryland Parliamentarian Jamie Raskin said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration needs to do more to protect meat packaging workers.

“Some of these companies treat factory workers much better than the animals that pass through them,” Ruskin said.

Debbie Berkowitz, along with Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, said the industry was slow to respond and federal regulators did not force companies to act.

“When the pandemic broke out, of course, it was going to hit the meat packaging factory very violently and very quickly,” said Berkowitz, a former OSHA employee who testified Wednesday. “Industry’s previous guidance released in late February was to not separate workers six feet away, but to protect them and mitigate the spread of COVID-19, but just continue. How was the reaction? “

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