The meatpacking industry’s warnings of possible meat shortages were so dire that Donald Trump ordered plants to stay open despite the risks, which have played out in big COVID-19 spikes in meatpacking plants and the zip codes they're located in. But while the companies were saying the U.S. meat supply might run short, they were exporting a record amount of pork to China.
These companies—Smithfield, Tyson, and others—used scare tactics to force their heavily immigrant workers to keep coming to unsafe jobs, and they turned around and exported 129,000 tons of pork to one country in one month. Meanwhile, more than 25,000 meatpacking workers have tested positive for COVID-19 and 89 have died.
Workers’ fear of going to jobs where, in at least one case, more than half of workers tested positive for coronavirus have led to high absentee rates—even higher than can be explained by sick workers staying home.
Workers are also speaking out. Last week, workers walked out and protested at the JBS Beef Plant in Logan, Utah, where 287 workers had tested positive on May 30 and some were slated to be back on the job on June 10. Workers held signs in English and Spanish with messages like “JBS cares more about profit than its employees” and “I’m risking it for you. Help protect me and my family,” The Salt Lake Tribune reports.
”They are making it seem like money is more important than our lives,” said Monique Ramos. “We produce meat for everyone across the country. We deserve to be valued.”
Alejandra, the wife of a worker at a Minnesota JBS plant, told Prism’s Tina Vasquez how little the company valued its workers, saying in May that “They care more about the product than the people.”
Again and again the meatpacking companies and the Trump administration have made it clear that these workers are not valued, with administration officials even blaming workers for getting sick despite how blazingly obvious it is that the companies are not taking adequate safety precautions. These workers are being treated as disposable, and it’s not a coincidence that nearly 40% of meatpacking workers are immigrants, being paid low wages for grueling work that’s unsafe even in non-pandemic times. The news about record pork exports just drives the point home one more time—the industry’s priority is not safety, and it’s not truth. It’s profit above human life.