Article 43

 

Friday, November 13, 2020

Meat Packers and Covid19

image: meatpackers

Over at the CALL CENTER they had a draconian policy called a ”POINT BASED ATTENDANCE” system.

Every day you’re absent or (even a minute) late for work, you get an attendance “point” on your permanent record. 

10 points = you’re fired.

When I got the flu it knocked me out and kept me home for two weeks straight without pay = 10 points.

To not get fired the boss insisted on a doctor’s note that put me out a few hundred dollars thanks to medical insurance’s yearly deductable.

Think that’s bad?

Let’s talk about meat packers and covid-19

It’s a lot worse than not showing up for their “essential” job because they’re sick.

President Trump made them go back to work, but didn’t make their employers provide masks or PPE.

DONALD TRUMP, invoking the Defense Production Act, has ordered meatpacking plants to stay open no matter the cost. Plants won’t even close for a deep cleaning when a deadly pathogen is found. The president said he is protecting companies from liability - you know, in case somebody keels over because of someone else’s negligence.

Talk about putting people in harm’s way and treating them as disposable.

I wonder how many of them have any kind of MEDICAL INSURANCE .

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Meatpacking Workers Say Attendance Policies Force Them to Work With Covid-19 Symptoms

By Heather Schlitz
Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting
October 20, 2020

As the pandemic rages, punitive ATTENDANCE POLICIES at corporate meat plants coerce sick workers into showing up, according to activists, experts and the workers themselves.

This story is part of a collaborative reporting initiative between the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting and USA TODAY Network and is supported by the PULITZER CENTER ON CRISIS REPORTING.

This story is embargoed for republication until Oct. 30

In April, despite his fever, a meatpacking worker continued to carve neck bones out of pig carcasses at a JBS plant in Iowa.

Two weeks later, he would test positive for COVID-19. But in the meantime, he said, he kept clocking in because of a punitive attendance system widely used in meatpacking plants: the point system.

Under the policy, workers usually receive a point or points for missing a day. If they gain enough points, they’re fired.
according to a
For a few months earlier this year, as case counts swelled, Tyson Foods suspended its point system, and Smithfield Foods said it has halted its version for the time being.

However, the point system has endured at Tyson and JBS plants throughout the pandemic, and it has continued to coerce people with potential COVID-19 symptoms into showing up to work, said plant employees, their family members, activists and researchers.

“People are afraid now to lose points, and they start to go to work even when they’re sick,” Alfredo, a machine operator in a Tyson poultry plant in Arkansas, said through an interpreter. He asked to be identified only by his first name out of fear of retribution.

“If they see that you can walk, they’ll tell you to keep working,” he continued. “If you cant stand on your own, they’ll send you home.”

Spokespeople for the country’s two biggest meat processing companies said employees are encouraged to stay home while ill.

“Our current attendance policy encourages our people to come to work when they’re healthy and instructs them to stay home with pay if they have symptoms of COVID-19 or have tested positive for the virus,” Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said.

“Regardless of our attendance policy, at no point during the pandemic have we assessed attendance points against team members for absences due to documented illness,” JBS spokeswoman Nikki Richardson said.

“Still, the point system has likely contributed to the virus’s spread,” said Jose Oliva, co-founder of the HEAL Food Alliance, a non-profit that organizes food industry workers.

“It’s probably one of the better propagators for the coronavirus that we’ve seen,” he said. “It’s absolutely disastrous to have a point system in the midst of a pandemic.”

Workers at one Tyson plant and two JBS plants said the only way they can stay home without penalty is if they test positive for the disease. They are required to go to work if they’re waiting for test results, they said.

Once he tested positive, the Iowa worker, 50, was allowed to miss work without racking up points, he said. He requested anonymity because he fears losing his job.

Complicating the situation is that many workers struggle to access testing or avoid COVID-19 tests due to the cost, wait times and fear of being targeted by immigration authorities, workers and advocates said.

The point system varies from plant to plant.

At the JBS plant in Greeley, Colorado, where about 300 workers have contracted the virus, employees can rack up six points before they’re fired, according to a documentshared by the local chapter of the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

At a JBS plant in Marshalltown, Iowa, its seven points, and at a Tyson poultry plant in Arkansas, where hundreds of workers have fallen ill, it’s 14 points, according to screenshots and photos shared by meatpacking workers in those plants.

At the Tyson plant, the company’s general attendance policy notes that “approval of prearranged absences is based upon the business needs of the Company. Even if workers give the plant proper notification that theyll miss a day, they receive a point, ACCORDING TO A COPY OF THE ETTENDANCE POLICY.

(Read the whole attendance policy at the end of this article.)

Mickelson said the documentdid not accurately reflect the companys attendance policy during the pandemic, as workers have been encouraged to remain home if theyҒre sick.

The point systems enforcement can also depend on the supervisor. They can bend the rules for employees with whom they have a good relationship, workers said.

While requiring employees to wear masks and installing plastic barriers between workers can reduce the transmission of the virus, the disease will keep spreading if plants donҒt isolate and quarantine sick workers, said Shelly Schwedhelm, executive director of emergency management and biopreparedness at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

To curb the viruss spread, Ғget rid of the point system and dont deter people from calling in ill,Ӓ she said.

After the Iowa meatpacking worker tested positive, he stayed home for two weeks before returning to the plant.

During the day, he did jumping jacks in his basement in hopes of strengthening his body enough to fight the virus and recited gasping prayers over the phone with his pastor. At night, he walked alone through his deserted neighborhood, worried he wouldnt wake up again if he fell asleep.

He said the company is “making us go back to work because some damn hogs got to die. But they donԒt care about human life. They care more about the damn hogs than they do about people.

New system for the pandemic

Before the pandemic, the JBS plant in Greeley allowed 7.5 points before a firing. Now, itҔs six, said Kim Cordova, president of UFCW Local 7, the union that represents the plants 3,000 workers.

ҒThe attendance policy became even more restrictive, she said.

Six workers died at the plant, making it one of the deadliest publicly reported meatpacking plant outbreaks in the country, according to Midwest Center tracking.

Sick employees can only recoup points at the Greeley plant if they have a doctorӔs note and if they call into an English-only attendance hotline, a problem for a workforce that speaks more than 38 languages, Cordova said.

To remove points from their record, workers must submit to the union screenshots of their call history to the hotline. Many workers find it to be a convoluted process, Cordova said.

They’ll give the point, and then the worker has to fight to have it removed,ғ she said. They make it really difficult to call in while sick, so workers are compelled to come into work even if theyԓre symptomatic.

Richardson, JBSҔs spokeswoman, said their new point system is more forgiving now because it allows workers to miss multiple days in a row. The company reset all its employees points to zero in late July, she said.

Tyson temporarily relaxed its point system in March but brought it back in June, even as case counts swelled.

The timing of TysonҒs decision was no coincidence, said Don Stull, a professor at the University of Kansas who has researched meatpacking for 35 years.

As that initial attention being focused on the industry began to wane, they started trying to run as near to pre-pandemic levels as they could. So they needed as many workers as they could get,ғ he said.

Mickelson, Tysons spokesman, said StullԒs claim was not true.

Few other opportunities

Large meatpacking plants are often in rural areas without many jobs opportunities. That leaves workers in a bind when dealing with the point system, workers and advocates said.

Eric Lopez, a sales manager at U.S. Cellular, said his mother works at the JBS plant in Marshalltown. A Mexican immigrant with no formal education who doesn’t speak English, she had few jobs available to her in Marshalltown other than the pork plant, he said.

She knows people with symptoms have continued showing up to work, he said, and it’s caused her to break down after coming home from work because she fears catching the virus.

For decades, the meatpacking industry has relied on immigrant, minority and poor workers, a demographic that activists and researchers said the primarily white meatpacking executives have exploited.

“Companies are run by old, white guys who think of workers as a piece of machinery,” said Joe Henry, the political director for the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa, a Hispanic civil rights organization.” They see them as people with different skin colors and different languages that they can just go ahead and treat like animals.”

Tyson and JBS strongly denied this characterization.

“That is completely untrue,” said JBSs Richardson, whose response echoed Tyson’s. “We have done everything possible to both protect and support our team members during this challenging time.”

SOURCE

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OSHA fines meat packers for Covid failures (sort of)

By Marion Nestle
Food Politics
September 20, 2020

I have OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH ADMINISTRATION (OSHA), the federal agency ostensibly responsible for” ensuring safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women.”

You don’t believe me?  Try this.

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR CITES SMITHFIELD PACKAGED MEATS DEPARTMENT OF LABOT CITES CITES SMITHFIELD PACKAGED MEATS CORP FOR FAILING TO PROTECT EMPLOYEES FROM CORONAVIRUS: The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited Smithfield Packaged Meats Corp. in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for failing to protect employees from exposure to the coronavirus. OSHA proposed a penalty of $13,494, the maximum allowed by law.

Or <this.  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR CITES JBS FOODS INC. FOR FAILING TO PROTECT EMPLOYEES FROM EXPOSURE TO THE CORONAVIRUS: The U.S. Department of Labors Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited JBS Foods Inc. in Greeley, Colorado, for failing to protect employees from exposure to the coronavirus. OSHA proposed $15,615 in penalties.

They have to be kidding.  We are talking here, according to Leah Douglas’s statistics, about how more than 2500 Smithfield employees and more than 2700 JBS employees have been confirmed with Covid-19.

If these are the maximum penalties (!), how about assigning them to every one of those cases.

The companies can certainly afford it: Smithfield had $13.2 billion in sales in 2019, and JBS had $51.7 billion.

Never mind, even that pittance penalty is too high for the meat industry to accept.

Furthermore, Smithfield is appealing the fine.  A representative said the fine is

“wholly without merit” because the company took “extraordinary measures” to protect employees from the COVID-19 virus. And during the pandemic, Smithfield took direction from OSHA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Translation: It’s not our fault.  Its OSHA fault, the CDCs fault, the USDA’s fault.

That’s NOT WHAT THE MEATPACKERS UNION SAYS.

Today [September 10], the UNITED FOOD AND COMMERCIAL WORKERS (UFCW) INTERNATIONAL UNION, which represents1.3 million workers in meatpacking plants and other essential businesses, condemned the new U.S. DEPARTMNET OF LABOR FINE ON SMITHFIELD FOODS as completely insufficient in the wake of the company’s failure to protect meatpacking workers at its Sioux Falls, South Dakota which reported nearly 1,300 COVID-19 infections and at least four deaths among its employees. As the union for Smithfield workers at this plant, UFCW called today’s fine by the Trump Administration insulting and a slap on the wrist that will do nothing to help those already infected or prevent future worker deaths.

It issued a similar statement on the JBS fine.

The meat industry has rallied to the defense of its Big Meat members.  To wit: MEAT INSTITUTE ISSUES STATEMENT ON OSHA CITATION RELATED TO COVID-19

The meat and poultry industry’s first priority is the safety of the men and women who work in their facilities [every time you read a statement like this, think of a red flag on the playing field - a warning that it means just the opposite]. Notwithstanding inconsistent and sometimes tardy government advice, (don’t wear a mask/wear a mask/April 26 OSHA guidance specific to the meat and poultry industry) when the pandemic hit in mid-March, meat and poultry processing companies quickly and diligently took steps to protect their workers. Companies had to overcome challenges associated with limited personal protective equipment. Most importantly, as evidenced in trends in data collected by the FOOD AND ENVIRONMENT REPORTING NETWORK and THE NEW YORK TIMES, these many programs and controls once in place worked and continue to work. Positive cases of COVID-19 associated with meat and poultry companies are trending down compared with cases nationwide.

The Meat Institute actually has the nerve to cite Leah Douglas’s data to support its defense - this, while meat companies are refusing to provide accurate data.  (Even the union cites much lower figures despite its REPORTS OF WORKERS being forced to stay on the lines without masks despite being ill or risk losing their jobs).

It details its arguments that all those illnesses and deaths are OSHA’s fault in yet another PRESS RELEASE SEPTEMBER 14.

I suppose we will now go through all this again for Tysons, where more than 10,000 workers have become ill.

Expect another of OSHA’s “slaps on the wrist” followed by the Meat Institutes objections.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 11/13/20 •
Section Dying America • Section Next Recession, Next Depression
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