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Trump orders meatpackers to stay open

by Lynde Langdon
Posted 4/29/20, 10:22 am

More than 20 meat processing plants in the United States have temporarily shut down because of coronavirus outbreaks among their workers. President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order under the Defense Production Act to keep the facilities open. The president said ranchers are providing plenty of beef, pork, poultry, and other meats—it’s just a matter of getting it processed and distributed.

What do the companies say? Some industry leaders like Tyson and Smithfield helped craft the order, which would provide companies with additional liability protections if workers get sick. Labor unions that represent plant employees balked, saying the command put plant employees and their families at risk.

Dig deeper: Read Daniel James Devine’s report about the pandemic’s effect on the global supply chain.

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Lynde Langdon

Lynde is a WORLD Digital's managing editor. She is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, the Missouri School of Journalism, and the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Lynde resides with her family in Wichita, Kansas. Follow Lynde on Twitter @lmlangdon.

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  •  West Coast Gramma's picture
    West Coast Gramma
    Posted: Wed, 04/29/2020 11:36 pm

    Think how great it would be and what a wonderful testimony if our president were to also mandate that the meat packing owners provide Covid-safe working conditions for all their workers. That would include social distancing, company supplied masks, coverups, socially distanced restrooms and lunch rooms, lots of opportunities for hand-washing before eating and other breaks. I might even vote for a presidential candidate who would have the heart to do such a thing.

  • OldMike
    Posted: Thu, 04/30/2020 11:21 pm

    Unlikely you will be voting for Mr.Trump then. I can tell you that social distancing in a poultry processing plant is only going to be possible if you enlarge the facility by 6 times--if for instance, you want to allow 6 feet between workers. 

    In the operations I've seen, the chickens are hung from a moving chain conveyer.  You are standing shoulder to shoulder with your coworkers along that conveyor, and as each bird swings by in front of you, you have just seconds to perform your assigned operation. If you want 6 foot spacing, that processing line will have to be completely torn out and rebuilt--6 times as long. 

    Distancing on breaks is going to be a problem too.  No one just walks away from a moving line to go on break when he feels like it. Sure, there's a relief operator who can jump into your spot when you need to run to the restroom--he can cover maybe 10 operators in an hour. But breaks can only be taken by shutting the line down. Then everyone goes to break. Several hundred of us going to break at once means crowded break rooms.  Convince the company to add 5 more break rooms for each one we have now, and we will be able to spread out. 

    Protective gear, clothing?  We are already wearing smocks over our clothes, maybe rubber boots (there's a lot of water splashing around in poultry processing) hair nets, beard nets on us men, protective goggles or clear face shields, protective gloves (those knives we are wielding are razor sharp) and sometimes hard hats. A virus protective mask over mouth and nose is going to be difficult--remember the speed with which we are performing our tasks?  Most of us are sweating, at least a little. And sometimes our goggles are fogging up from the humidity--all that water--so the mask you're going to try to breathe thru will be wet in minutes. 

    But we can take care of all these issues--it will only take a year to completely build new, 6 times as large plants, dehumidified, and with 6 times as much break room area. Surely we won't be out of food before those new safer plants are in production. 

    I've never been in a beef or pork processing plant.  With much larger carcasses to deal with I'm sure there are a lot of differences. Nevertheless I figure quite a bit of the processing must be done with workers in fairly close proximity. 

    Did you know anything about what people do everyday to make sure you have chicken to eat?  Not exactly the career most of us would dream of for our kids and grandkids.  But it's reality for a lot of folks, and we need to be appreciative of them. Their regular workday is full of what a lot of us would regard as unbearable working conditions. Even without worrying about covid.