Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Meat plant workers. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Meat plant workers. (Photo: Shutterstock)

A Death Sentence for Meatpackers

Meatpackers are contracting COVID-19 and dying. Trump is requiring them to work—and shielding their employers from liability.

Jill Richardson

 by OtherWords

Meat processing plants are high risk for spreading COVID-19, and many are shutting down. Animals due for processing have nowhere to go, and they are being culled.

Workers there aren’t treated a great deal better.

I’ve interviewed one meatpacker who worked at a pork plant, years ago. He told me he was recruited with promises of good wages and benefits, but when he got there, those benefits were unattainable.

It seems like one of the Trump administration’s primary responses to the pandemic is using it as an excuse to cut regulations, like environmental protections — or in this case, the right to a safe and healthy workplace.

He described long hours doing repetitive work quickly, and everyone having debilitating repetitive stress injuries. He told me he has a bladder condition and he was not allowed to go to the bathroom, so he wet his pants. Twice. A grown man.

His supervisors then suspected he was drunk, and of course he wasn’t.

His story squares with Eric Schlosser’s depictions in Fast Food Nation. Meatpacking plants are dangerous, exploitative workplaces that often prey on vulnerable populations like immigrants and people of color. Schlosser shows how meatpacking plants moved to rural areas from the cities and attracted marginalized groups as labor.

Our supply chain relies on meatpacking plants and their workers, and right now working could risk peoples’ lives. More than 4,400 workers have the coronavirus and 18 have died.

Yet Donald Trump now plans to order meatpacking plants to stay open and shield them from liability for workers becoming infected with COVID-19 on the job.

I care about the economy a lot — I’m finishing a PhD and worried about job prospects. But this is essentially saying that meatpacking plants are so critical that it’s okay if their workers die from a disease acquired on the job.

It seems like one of the Trump administration’s primary responses to the pandemic is using it as an excuse to cut regulations, like environmental protections — or in this case, the right to a safe and healthy workplace.

AP News reports “Citing Virus, EPA Has Stopped Enforcing Environmental Laws.” CNN says “Trump Administration is Rushing to Gut Environmental Protections.”

They’re using the pandemic as a Trojan horse to usher in all kinds of environmental and labor deregulation.

The question is: How do we balance what the economy needs to function, the American people’s need for food, farmers and ranchers’ need for markets, and workers’ need for jobs with everyone’s — especially the workers’ — need to slow the spread of the coronavirus to save lives?

Those are the questions a responsible government would be asking. Instead, ours is using it as a power grab to do what they’ve always wanted to do anyway.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
Jill Richardson

Jill Richardson

Jill Richardson is pursuing a PhD in sociology at UW-Madison, where she studies natural resources and the environment.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Citing Need for 'New, Inclusive Leadership,' Chuy García Files for Chicago Mayoral Race

"We have an opportunity to elect a trusted and experienced leader with a history of building coalitions and a vision for a brighter future for all Chicagoans," said the Democratic congressman.

Jessica Corbett ·


On Cyber Monday, Climate Activists Take Aim at Fashion Industry

"The fashion industry is one of the largest polluting industries globally. We can all do better, but it's on companies to make this industry better for workers, the planet, and consumers alike."

Jessica Corbett ·


Biden Accused of Selling Out Rail Workers by Urging Congress to Prevent Strike

"Biden is siding with corporate rail bosses over the rank-and-file workers who voted against this agreement," said one progressive commentator after the president urged lawmakers to take action to force through a deal without paid sick leave.

Brett Wilkins ·


Analysis Finds State Legislators Proposed 306 Bills Targeting Trans People in Past 2 Years

"Right-wing state lawmakers are obsessed with taking away the rights of trans people and we're obsessed with knocking them out of public office," said one rights group.

Julia Conley ·


Biden Mulls Sending Long-Range Missiles to Ukraine

While Ukrainians and supporters welcomed Boeing's proposal to arm Ukrainian forces with long-range precision-guided bombs, one anti-war voice accused the American military-industrial complex of "dictating the U.S. foreign policy and profiteering from wars."

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo