I am shocked that Comrade Hawley is not leading the way to investigate why so many meatpacking workers died in the early months of the pandemic. And here I thought he was a true populist like Donald Trump! Instead, it’s those neoliberal Democrats who are angry. Tucker never told me this would happen.
A key congressional panel launched an investigation this week into the wave of COVID-19 infections that killed hundreds of workers at meatpacking plants nationwide last year and highlighted longstanding hazards in the industry.
Since the start of the pandemic, the meat industry has struggled to contain the virus in its facilities, and plants in Iowa, South Dakota and Kansas have endured some of the biggest workplace outbreaks in the country.
The meat companies’ employees, many of them immigrants and refugees, slice pig bellies or cut up chicken carcasses in close quarters. Many of them don’t speak English and aren’t granted paid sick leave. To date, more than 50,000 meatpacking workers have been infected and at least 250 have died, according to a ProPublica tally.
The congressional investigation, opened by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, will examine the role of JBS, Smithfield Foods and Tyson Foods, three of the nation’s largest meat companies, which, the subcommittee said, had “refused to take basic precautions to protect their workers” and had “shown a callous disregard for workers’ health.”
The subcommittee is chaired by Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the No. 3 Democrat in the House.
In response to the subcommittee’s announcement, officials for JBS and Tyson said that the companies had spent hundreds of millions of dollars to implement coronavirus protections and to temporarily increase pay and benefits, and they looked forward to discussing their pandemic safety efforts with the panel. Smithfield said in a statement that it had also taken “extraordinary measures” to protect employees from the virus, spending more than $700 million on workplace modifications, testing and equipment.
The House subcommittee noted that reports from a variety of news organizations had illuminated problems with how the meatpacking companies handled the pandemic, and with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s enforcement efforts. The subcommittee cited ProPublica’s reporting on how meat companies blindsided local public health departments, and on Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts’ efforts to intervene when local health officials tried to temporarily shutter a JBS plant amid an outbreak.
As ProPublica notes, their reporters have been documenting the horrors of slaughterhouses for years. They are hardly alone. I’ve written a book that goes into it in some detail, so have far more popular writers such as Eric Schlosser. There’s nothing new here except that no one cares so long as they can get their bacon at a price they want. The question is whether anything will come of the horrors of this pandemic to change the conditions under which workers toil. I am skeptical until it happens. But there’s no way it happens unless Democrats are in power, so this is a positive first step.