Workers In “Frontline” Jobs Are More Vulnerable To COVID

Photo: Jeff Reinitz, The Courier/AP via The Washington Post

The meat industry has long been a target of climate critics and food safety advocates, and now its weaknesses are becoming even more apparent as workers in meatpacking plants (yes – the ones the President forced to remain open) are testing positive for COVID in huge numbers — 1600 are POSITIVE in 4 plants in Iowa alone.  And coal workers — who are already at high risk for lung and other injuries due to the treacherous conditions inside of mines — are similarly harmed disproportionately by COVID, according to former officials at the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).

Why This Matters:  Climate change leaders have long argued that industrial livestock farming, meat processing, coal mining, and coal-fired power plants are bad for human health and climate change.  Now COVID is attacking these workers at rates that are shocking — 58% of the workers at one particular meatpacking plant tested positive for the virus.  And coal miners are at greater risk than they should be because safety rules are not being enforced in mines — they are only guidelines and there is little oversight by the MSHA.  These workers may be deemed essential for the purposes of keeping coal and meatpacking plants open, but their individual safety is not a priority.

Meatpacking Plants Are “Dangerous”

Presidential candidate Joe Biden told NBC News that he “feared for meatpacking workers. He said such plants, along with nursing homes, have become “the most dangerous places there are right now.”  He continued, “They designate them as essential workers and then treat them as disposable,” Biden said of the meatpackers.  The numbers of plant workers testing positive are unconscionable.  NBC News reported that:

The Des Moines Register reported that:

  • at a Tyson plant in Waterloo 444 workers test positive, which was 17% of those tested
  • at a Tyson plant in Columbus Junction 221 workers test positive, which was 26% of those tested
  • at the Iowa Premium Beef plant in Tama, 258 workers tested positive, which was 39% of those tested

Regardless of the President’s executive order keeping them open, Tyson Foods said in a statement, “We have and expect to continue to face slowdowns and temporary idling of production facilities from team member shortages or choices we make to ensure operational safety.”

Protecting Coal Miners

West Virginia Public TV reports that there are tools that the MSHA could use, including more inspections, making sure miners know they can report unsafe conditions without fear of retribution, issuing emergency standards, and making public which mines have confirmed cases of the virus.  They said that “MSHA did not respond to questions about why it had not made safety precautions mandatory.”  And older miners have a high rate of black lung disease and worry that they would not survive if they got the virus.  And local clinics that treat black lung disease have actually closed temporarily in order to protect their patients.

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