United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) released new information from their investigation into whether Tyson Foods, JBS USA, Cargill and Smithfield Foods used the COVID-19 pandemic as cover while they failed to protect workers, dramatically increased prices for consumers while exporting record amounts of meat abroad, and successfully lobbied the President with a false pretext to sign an executive order that gave them cover to continue operating in an unsafe fashion. Findings included:
Not one of the companies gave specifics on the number of COVID-19 cases or deaths in their plants.
Not one of the companies shared numerical information about their production capacity, making it impossible to assess the validity of the claims they made in March about threats to the US food system.
Not a single company shared information about prices charged to consumers or paid to farmers.
Meatpackers are not following consistent practices.
While all four companies said they were “meeting” or “exceeding” CDC standards, the continued increase in COVID-19 cases in meatpacking plants suggests voluntary guidelines are not sufficient.
None of the companies are consistently implementing the CDC’s recommendation of 6-foot social distancing on processing lines.
Neither Cargill nor JBS USA’s responses claim to implement social distancing on their processing lines.
Smithfield said that its plants are not designed for social distancing, and did not indicate it had or would pursue a sustainable solution.
Tyson claims it is “creating barriers and/or requiring face shields on production lines where social distancing is not possible” which indicates that its plants are not implementing the 6-foot social distancing measure, and Tyson has offered no evidence of social distancing implementation on production lines.
Reports from workers on the front lines further highlight the inadequacy of efforts to protect workers in the face of an unprecedented public health crisis that threatens the lives of their workers.
Joint Statement by Food Chain Workers Alliance, Rural Community Workers Alliance, HEAL Food Alliance, American Friends Service Committee – Iowa, Idaho Organization of Resource Councils, and Forward Latino:
“Tyson and JBS have adopted policies that reject critical Centers for Disease Control guidance to stop the spread of COVID-19 at their processing facilities. This has led to an unacceptable number of workers getting sick and dying. These policies and procedures have a discriminatory impact on the predominantly Black, Latino and Asian workforce and reflect the existence of systematic racial discrimination. These policies that endanger workers are a deliberate choice by these companies to put profit over the lives of workers and their communities. If Tyson and JBS will not prioritize the safety of their Black, Latino, and Asian workers, USDA must enforce our basic civil rights laws. We are a collective of worker-based organizations and allies who have filed an administrative civil rights complaint with the USDA, because Tyson and JBS have received significant sums of public contracts through USDA. However, it is imperative that Congress act to ensure that OSHA does the job it was created to do and issue COVID-19 standards to protect all workers.”
Statement by Brent Newell, senior attorney with Public Justice:
“What Senator Warren and Senator Booker propose today will go a long way towards stopping harmful racial discrimination and compelling agribusiness to treat their employees and the communities in which they operate as essential, not sacrificial. It seems like every day that Public Justice hears from workers who fear for their health, and the health of their co-workers and communities, because of megacorporations’ failure to protect them from COVID-19. A worker at a Tyson plant said ‘Workers in harvesting are still working within feet, if not inches, of each other. Tyson has not accommodated this job to keep workers safe, their best protection so far is the masks and face shields but I don’t think that’s enough. Workers are still getting sick.’ A worker at a JBS plant who contracted COVID-19 said, ‘At my plant, we are still faced with working closely to each other on the cutting room floor and the company refuses to provide 6 feet distance between workers. The line speed is also too fast and I have difficulty with breathing and continue to feel nauseous while working at such a pace.’”