Slavery or Sacrifice? Risk Your Life at a Job Infected with the Virus or Lose your Income
This is the choice many workers are being forced to make: Risk getting sick or lose your income.
This is especially stark at meat processing plants, where the workers usual salary is just enough to get by week-to-week and many of the workers are relatively recent immigrants. Now DT is saying he will sign an executive order under the Defense Production Act to stop closures of meat processing plants by declaring them “critical infrastructure.” He will force the employees at these plants to go to work despite dangerous conditions. Is this action initiating a form of slavery? Is he sacrificing American workers to fit his own political purposes?
Workers at many of these plants have, for over a month, been scared to go to work, but they did so because they had little choice. And now, under DT’s executive order, if they choose not to work, they will neither get a paycheck nor be allowed to collect unemployment.
This is not just true of workers in meat processing plants. It is true in Iowa where the Governor wants to gradually open up all businesses, despite continued spread of the virus. If people refuse to go to work, due to fears of getting sick, they will lose their unemployment insurance. To make this even more blatant, Mitch McConnell said he has drawn a “red line” regarding the next coronavirus bill: no more relief from Congress for infected people, medical supplies, or businesses unless the businesses he forces to open are protected from liability claims. He knows he is putting lives at risk but he either doesn’t care or is willing to sacrifice them.
Rachel Maddow interviewed former OSHA policy advisor Debbie Berkowitz about the situation at the meat processing plants. Berkowitz said the administration is claiming we have only one choice: safety for workers or a break down in the US food supply. This, she says, is a false choice. The claim that we must either “feed America or keep Americans safe” is a false choice that exposes “government malfeasance.”
DT wants to force these plants to resume business in order to resurrect a crumbling economy, protect his power, and preserve profits for his supporters. Likewise, Rachel Maddow revealed that the situation was made worse than it had to be by the DT administration. When the CDC inspected the plants and found violations, instead of doing what it usually does, and issue required changes in the way the plants operated, they issued suggestions. Is this because DT’s Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia decided he would not make the health guidelines for meatpacking plants mandatory and would not enforce the changes in the plants the CDC laid out back in March, and again just recently? The result? 1700 people have died in different meat processing plants, and the virus is spreading through the local communities.
In Black Hawk County, Iowa, the Sheriff spoke of his fears ⎼ not only that the coronavirus will continue to spread through the Tyson meat processing plant, but spread throughout the population of his city. He said the “hole is blown in the front line of defense” against the virus.
In order to open the plants, significantly more testing will be required. Vice President Pence said that, after large outbreaks in plants in Greeley, Colorado, he would “flow” testing to those plants. It has not happened. Could there be even more positive cases at that plant? Nobody knows. The testing never happened and is not happening now, despite the plant being given a public health order telling them to test every employee.
Since the crisis began, it is not clear why DT has not pushed for more testing. Is it incompetence, malevolence, corruption, or maybe a fear of what the numbers might reveal? Is it racism, since a disproportionate number of the deaths are of people of color? Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said that the “lack of testing,” not just for meat packing plants but for the general population, is “probably the number one problem in America and has been from the beginning of this crisis.” He added that the White House’s happy talk “is just absolutely false.”
Some might imagine they are not affected by these actions. They might think this is just happening in red states or in Iowa, Colorado, or South Dakota, or just those with meat processing plants. These plants exist in many states, largely along the east coast and Midwest.
How about the air we breathe? That affects everyone. Since the DT EPA reduced air quality standards, air pollutants in places like Houston’s heavily industrialized areas have surged as much as 62%. Residents have said “we don’t even know what we’re breathing.” “They are basically killing us.” But this danger is affecting people of color disproportionately, who live closest to affected areas.
And this list of how DT threatens the great majority of Americans could go on almost indefinitely. DT has rolled back protections on our drinking water, undermined our ability to face this crisis, undermining our right to vote, our jobs, etc. We must not allow this to go on.
This post was partly inspired by a conversation on FB and partly by a Rachel Maddow program. Maddow reported on the CDC not closing or enforcing its guidelines at any meatpacking plant but the one in Sioux City owned by Smithfield. This plant was closed because one female worker sued the plant, not to get money, but to compel the owners of the plant to adequately protect its workers. We can take action. When we do research, share information, and show compassion, we can energize ourselves and inspire others to act.
On Tuesday, 4/21, a bill to require OSHA safety standards be enforced was introduced in the U. S. House of Representatives and 34 Senators sent a letter to DT objecting to the lack of protections at the meat processing plants. We need to pressure Congress to get this passed. This is one action we can take this week. We need to do what we can to protect each other from this president.
Whether it be joining other people, with signs on cars, to protest on Friday, May Day, or on any other day, calling Congress, or writing letters. We must do what we can to stop DT from ending the stay-at-home orders too soon and sacrificing people to serve his power and profit.