Union officials and worker advocates are sounding the alarm about the president’s latest move demanding the meat packing industry stay open during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying workers are already at risk of getting sick and companies have not done enough to protect them.
Meat packing plants across the country have been closed amid outbreaks among workers operating in close conditions, including one of the largest outbreaks in the country at a facility in South Dakota.
Industry officials have publicly raised concerns that more closures would threaten the supply of meat to consumers and hurt farmers who would have nowhere to send their livestock but that they’re being pressured to close by local officials to minimize the impact of outbreaks.
MORE: Trump signs executive order to keep meat processing plants open under Defense Production Act
President Donald Trump’s executive order pushes those plants to stay open to maintain the supply of meat for consumers and provides cover to companies facing pressure to stop production to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is now in charge of coordinating with companies, says it will still require them to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommendations but advocates are concerned workers could still be exposed to the virus.
“The government cannot force these workers to work with that — the basic essential protections, like, that is just not right,” Magaly Licolli, an organizer for workers in meat processing plants in Arkansas, told ABC News. “You know, you don’t send a military to the war without guns, you know, and so that is not what the workers want. The government and this company just want to keep sacrificing workers for their profits.”
Companies such as Tyson Foods say they have implemented some of the social distancing guidelines by installing partitions between workstations, taking employee temperatures and other changes, and the new executive order puts the Department of Agriculture in charge of working with companies to enforce them as they keep working.