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The Horrors of Tyson


ProPublica is a gem. Their reporters continually produce perhaps the best investigative journalism in America. Today’s drop is a maddening deep dive in Tyson’s utter indifference to the workers dropping dead like flies from COVID-19 in its Waterloo, Iowa plant. It’s the must read of the day.

In an apartment on the west side of town, a Karenni refugee from Myanmar woke up one morning in April gasping for air. His wife tried to help, but the man, who butchered hog carcasses for a living, was suddenly too weak to get out of bed.

A few miles away, Congolese immigrants, short of breath and struggling with coughing fits, cocooned themselves in blankets and leaned over steaming pots of lemon, ginger and garlic.

Outside the weather was getting warmer, but the streets were eerily empty, almost like when the ocean pulls out all the water before pounding a wave onto the shore. In the lull, Dr. Sharon Duclos, the co-medical director of the Peoples Community Health Clinic, waited anxiously, hoping that the deadly new virus would somehow spare her city.

Then it hit. Overnight, the number of cases in urgent care doubled, then tripled and quadrupled. The clinic’s interpreters, fielding calls in multiple languages, couldn’t keep up. Unable to get through, families drove to the clinic, lining up on the sidewalk as the smell of fast food drifted from the Hardee’s next door.

As the staff tended to the sick, a chilling pattern emerged: 99% of the patients either worked at the local Tyson Foods meatpacking plant or lived with someone who did. Some patients said they’d come from a town two hours away where an outbreak had shut down another Tyson plant.

This is the story of the corporate domination of a town, the recruitment of an easily exploited workforce, and a political system far more concerned with corporate interests than that of workers. Of course, given that Iowa’s utter failure at managing the pandemic only led to the reelection of all its Republicans and winning back congressional seats held by Democrats, I guess Iowa Republicans know their voters: people highly resentful of these immigrants doing these awful jobs that keep the economy of their state alive, if not the workers themselves.

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