If you were thinking that Donald Trump and the Federal agencies he oversees are on your side, think again.
“For the previous forty-two years, a thousand or so laborers at the local processing plant, in Selbyville, had been represented by Local 27. Just two years earlier, the workers there had ratified a new five-year contract. But, Hill told the crowd, in the middle of the pandemic, as the number of infected workers soared, the plant’s owner, Mountaire Corporation—one of the country’s largest purveyors of chicken—conspired, along with Donald Trump, to ‘kick us out.'” – The New Yorker
Even as the country reels from the economic and social impacts of a pandemic, workers are at the front lines of the supply chain keeping us fed, healthy, and moving our society forward. These same workers who were already, for the most part, treated as non-essential prior to COVID-19 are carrying our complete and combined weight: nurses, grocery store clerks, warehouse workers, food service, and food processing workers. Their rights to sick time, health insurance, personal protective equipment are all being taken for granted. Some of the jobs, such as meat and poultry processing, dangerous in the best of times, are now essential by Presidential decree.
“Government statistics indicate that poultry and meat-processing companies report more severe injuries than other industries commonly assumed to be more hazardous, including coal mining and sawmilling. Between 2015 and 2018, on average, a slaughterhouse worker lost a body part, or went to the hospital for in-patient treatment, about every other day. Unlike meatpackers, two-thirds of whom belong to unions, only about a third of poultry workers are represented by organized labor—and those who are unionized face mounting pressure. The industry, which is dominated by large multinational corporations such as Mountaire, has grown increasingly concentrated, expanding its political influence while replacing unionized employees with contract hires, often immigrants or refugees. These vulnerable workers are technically hired by temp agencies, relieving poultry plants of accountability if documentation is lacking. Trump has weakened federal oversight of the industry while accepting millions of dollars in political donations from some of its most powerful figures.”
While these workers are struggling to protect themselves and their families, they are getting confronted with new struggles in the workplace. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are remaining silent or siding with business owners in the suppression of workers’ rights. The administration and Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are holding up the next round of COVID relief for a requirement of corporate immunity so that businesses that do not work to keep employees safe while working will not be held responsible. We are four months into a pandemic and OSHA has not issued any guidelines for businesses and workers safety standards. What are they waiting for?