Sky Chadde is the Midwest Center’s Gannett Agricultural Data Fellow. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Fear over Covid-19 has led some meatpacking workers to stay home as the coronavirus continues to spread.
On Tuesday, about 800 people didn't show up for work at a JBS meatpacking plant in Colorado, according to a local state TV station, 9News. The local union said there were six cases of Covid-19, but JBS wouldn't confirm that to the TV station.
Last week, about 50 workers walked off the job at a Perdue Farms plant in Georgia over coronavirus concerns, according to 13WMAZ, another local TV station.
"We're not getting nothing -- no type of compensation, no nothing, not even no cleanliness, no extra pay -- no nothing. We're up here risking our life for chicken," an employee told the TV station.
In early March, a worker in South Dakota was quarantined, according to the Kelo Media Group. On March 23, Sanderson Farms said a worker had the virus, the first confirmed case in a meatpacking plant, according to Reuters.
But other workers, some of whom are undocumented, told ProPublica that they continue going to work because they're worried they'll be fired if they call in sick.
“We are all afraid,” one told ProPublica. “The problem is if people feel sick, they’re not going to say anything because they need the money."
Meatpacking already had workplace dangers.
The speed at which carcasses come at workers forces them to perform the same, repetitive motion many times over, leading to life-long injuries, according to NPR. The speed also means that people, who often work shoulder to shoulder, rarely have time for a bathroom break, according to a report from OxFam America.
Last week, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union announced increased pay and benefits for its members at meatpacking plants, but nonunion workers have no such guarantees.