Tyson meat plants in US close amid massive outbreak of COVID-19
Workers angry, product shortage looms
A meat processing plant run by Tyson Foods Corp. in Pasco, Washington, USA is the most recent facility to close indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This facility processes beef for the company, enough that would feed four million people per day. About 1,400 people work at the plant.
This recent closure is one of dozens for meat plants across the country. In total, as of the date of this article, 17 workers in various meat facilities (not just Tyson) have died of the coronavirus, while nearly 2,500 more have tested positive. Ninety people at one Tyson plant in Goodlettsville, Tennessee are among the positive cases.
It's believed that working conditions in these facilities do not abide by government requirements of social distancing and use of protective gear. Workers are often in close quarters with sub-par sanitary measures in place.
Tyson announced they will be providing face coverings and checking temperatures of all employees at the facilities that remain open. Luckily, these workers are protected by labor unions, which means they have a force behind them to fight for better conditions and paid time off.
Tyson Foods has been in hot water for their controversial response (or, lack thereof) to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of their plants in the state of Georgia offered their employees a $500 bonus if they worked all the way through June without missing a day. That means that sick employees could choose to come to work for the extra monetary reward. Tyson claims it's a "thank you" bonus.
The controversy erupted earlier this month when workers said they were told to come in to work even after reporting their illness to management. They also confirmed reports of uncleanly working conditions and lack of social distancing.
Although Tyson has admitted to closing facilities because of the pandemic, they also claim "worker absenteeism" is to blame. Many employees are staying home due to fear of contracting the deadly virus. These statements from the company are producing even more anger from their workforce, who insist they will not put their safety at risk for a job.
John H. Tyson, Chairman of Tyson Foods, published a full page letter to the public in this past Sunday edition of the New York Times. He says "The food supply chain is breaking". He promises to fight to remain open, claiming that his company providing food is as essential as healthcare.
These closures may cause an increase in price of various meat products in grocery stores. Consumer demand for meat has been declining. Farmers are at a crossroads with not being able to sell their overabundance of livestock. Everyone linked to the meat industry in the United States is feeling the financial effects of this pandemic, however the safety of workers at processing plants should remain top priority.