On April 7, Tyson Foods announced it was closing an Iowa pork processing plant due to at least 25 of its employees falling victim to novel coronavirus COVID-19. A week earlier, multinational meatpacker JBS cut back production at its meatpacking facility in Pennsylvania for the same reason, joining Empire Kosher and Olymel, who have closed chicken and pig facilities respectively because too many workers have become sick.
Smithfield Foods closed down a pork processing plant in South Dakota this week, and announced Covid-19 has been diagnosed at its North Carolina facility in the town of Tarheel in Bladen County. The county cited privacy issues in its decision not to reveal how many persons have been affected. One employee decided the risk was too great for her to bring the virus home to her asthmatic child. “We are directly on top of each other coming down the line,” she said, under condition of anonymity, to a local ABC television affiliate.
On Tuesday, April 21, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper confirmed that five food processing plants in the state, located in Bladen, Chatham, Duplin, Lee and Robeson counties, have been stricken with coronavirus outbreaks. Workers at chicken processors Mountaire Farms in Siler City and Pilgrim’s Pride in Sanford have been complaining for over a week about the contagion, lack of worker protections and workplace pressures such as threatened termination if they call out sick. Many Latinx employees work for subcontractors at the chicken processing plants, at lower rates of pay and with no paid leave.
The Farmworker Advocacy Network (FAN) and the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry (EFWM) in Dunn, North Carolina gathered agricultural workers and advocates virtually via Zoom to give voice to the workers and broadcast the extent of the problem.Continue reading this article