By Gladys Godinez, community organizer, Center for Rural Affairs
Meatpacking plants across the country have become COVID-19 hotspots, and the struggles faced by the people working inside are apparent and alarming.
Our friends and neighbors are being asked to risk their health, safety, and lives without vital protections on the job which, in turn, is endangering our food supply and our entire communities. People working in meat and poultry plants continue to be asked to work shoulder to shoulder without critical protections and they are getting sicker and sicker as a result.
The spread of COVID-19 in meatpacking communities is happening because meatpacking plants have responded insufficiently to this public health crisis. A lack of safety is leading to plant shutdowns, and that is something that we all want to avoid.
For the last month, we have had many conversations with these employees and their family members. Six-foot physical distancing is not happening in most plants across the country on the production floor.
One simple request comes from the son of a meatpacking plant worker. “Provide our essential meatpacking workers with paid leave, hazard pay, personal protective equipment, and free COVID-19 testing for employees and their families,” he said.
We do not have to choose between food production and worker safety. Continued food production depends on worker safety. Companies, as well as state and federal governments, need to step up and offer their essential workers real and meaningful solutions to keep everyone safe and economically secure.
By implementing protections for essential workers, their families, and communities, we can help slow the spread of the virus and ensure food production can continue safely throughout the U.S.
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Established in 1973, the Center for Rural Affairs is a private, non-profit organization working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities through action oriented programs addressing social, economic, and environmental issues.