Wednesday, September 22, 2021

USDA meatpacker grants for pandemic health and safety don't address underlying problems, say worker advocates

Works process pork at a Triumph Foods plant in St. Joseph, Missouri, in April 2017.
An investigation showed plant officials sacrificed worker safety for profits during the pandemic.
(USDA photo by Preston Keres)
The Agriculture Department's new Farm and Food Workers Relief grant program provides $600 to help farmworkers and meatpacking workers with pandemic-related health and safety costs. Though it could help families, it doesn't address underlying safety problems for such workers, according to an organizer for poultry workers in Arkansas. Kristi Eaton reports for The Daily Yonder.

Magaly Licolli, executive director of Venceremos, told the Yonder that the USDA must do more to regulate line speeds, and that many deaths that happened during the pandemic, when line speeds were sometimes increased, could have been prevented.

"In many cases during the pandemic, workers were forced to work, at first without proper personal protective equipment and then without social distancing measures and then with increased line speeds, she said," Eaton reports.

Licolli also noted that while such grants emphasize workers' personal safety efforts, much of the problem has to do with company decisions. The pandemic has made existing safety issues worse, she said, and companies that say they want to improve must listen to workers' voices when creating new regulations.

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