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Plant Discrimination Alleged  07/09 17:37

   USDA Asked to Investigate Companies' Treatment of Minority Employees

   A number of minority worker interest groups allege racial discrimination at 
meatpacking plants during the COVID-19 pandemic, in a complaint filed with USDA.

Todd Neeley
DTN Staff Reporter

   OMAHA (DTN) -- A new complaint filed with USDA this week alleges major 
meatpacking companies have discriminated against minority workers by not taking 
all adequate steps to protect them during the COVID-19 pandemic.

   Food Chain Workers Alliance, Rural Community Workers Alliance, HEAL Food 
Alliance, American Friends Service Committee -- Iowa, Idaho Organization of 
Resource Councils, and Forward Latino, asked the USDA to "suspend, terminate, 
and refuse to provide" financial assistance to Tyson Foods, JBS USA and 
Pilgrim's Pride Corp.

   The groups allege the companies violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act 
that protects against racial discrimination by recipients of federal financial 
assistance.

   The complaint stated Tyson and JBS SA (owner of Pilgrim's Pride) combined 
have received more than $150 million in federal contracts in 2020, but are 
discriminating against their workers, who are predominately Black, Latino or 
Asian.

   "We're still reviewing the filing but can tell you our top priority is the 
health and safety of all our team members, their families and the communities 
where our plants are located," Tyson External Communications Director Worth 
Sparkman told DTN.

   "We've transformed the way our plants operate to protect our team members, 
implementing measures such as symptom screening before every shift."

   Sparkman said the League of United Latin American Citizens recently 
announced it had seen Tyson making progress in taking care of meatpacking plant 
workers.

   Cameron Bruett, head of corporate affairs for JBS USA, which owns Pilgrim's 
Pride, said the company's diversity is one of its strengths.

   "We are a culture of many, including refugee, immigrant, native-born and 
asylee," he said.

   "We are humbled to provide well-paying jobs to many first-generation 
Americans seeking to build a better future for themselves and their families. 
During this pandemic, we have maintained our operations and the jobs they 
create only when we believe our facilities to be safe. We have embraced our 
responsibility to provide a safe working environment and will continue to do 
so. Our efforts have followed, and often exceeded, CDC guidance. We welcome any 
review of our practices and response to the pandemic, along with the many 
opportunities we provide our team members from every background imaginable."

   As of July 6, the Food and Environment Reporting Network reported there have 
been at least 291 meatpacking plants with 32,151 workers with confirmed 
COVID-19 cases and 122 fatalities.

   The complaint filed with USDA points out that among 61% of coronavirus cases 
reported at packing plants in 21 states, 9,919 cases, 87% of cases occurred 
among racial or ethnic minority workers.

   "A significant majority of COVID-19 cases with accompanying race/ethnicity 
data show an overwhelming rate of infection among people of color," the 
complaint alleges.

   The complaint said the corporations in question have "disregarded" the 
6-feet social-distancing rule. The groups suggest if the distance was followed 
by plant workers, it would require plants to reduce processing rates.

   Tyson, for example, has put protective steps in place to include taking 
employees' temperatures when they arrive at work, providing face masks, 
installing physical barriers between workstations and in break rooms, and 
installing hand-sanitizer stations throughout plants.

   "However, employees in Tyson's meat-processing plants have been forced to 
continue working in unsafe conditions, resulting in numerous COVID-19 
infections and deaths," the complaint alleges.

   "Despite hundreds of confirmed cases and deaths in several plants, Tyson did 
not provide any personal protective equipment to all workers or install 
barriers between workers until mid-April."

   JBS USA has removed vulnerable workers from its plants, including those 60 
years and older, as well as providing free virus testing and face masks to 
workers.

   "However, despite these measures, the number of cases and deaths at JBS 
plants continues to rise dramatically," the complaint said.

   JBS reopened its Greeley, Colorado, plant on April 24. Since reopening, the 
number of confirmed cases and deaths at the Greeley plant has doubled. As of 
July 1, 2020, at least 282 workers have contracted COVID-19 at the Greeley 
plant, and six workers have died, the complaint stated.

   The complaint said Black and Latino workers make up the majority of 
meat-processing hourly workers "who have a disproportionately high risk of 
exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19."

   The complaint said the corporations "cannot meet this burden" and policies 
"do not square with the pretext for the designation of meat and poultry by 
Executive Order 13917 as a critical material for domestic use."

   President Donald Trump signed an executive order in late April requiring 
meatpacking plants to stay open under the Defense Production Act.

   The groups, however, allege domestic meat use was "never in danger" as the 
amount of meat exported during the first quarter of 2020 increased.

   "And the fact that executive order designated meat and poultry as a critical 
for domestic use -- not export -- further undermines a capacity justification," 
the complaint said.

   From Jan. 1 through July 7, Tyson and JBS received $109.4 million and $45.8 
million worth of federal contracts through farm bill nutrition programs and the 
trade mitigation program.

   "Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention corroborate 
this complaint," the groups said.

   "On July 7, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control published data collected 
through May 31, 2020, analyzed the COVID-19 harm suffered by workers in meat 
processing facilities, and discussed the measures implemented -- or more 
importantly not implemented -- at such facilities."

   The CDC disparity report found based on 21 states reporting race and 
ethnicity data, "Hispanic and Asian workers might be disproportionately 
affected by COVID-19 in this workplace setting."

   Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

   Follow him on Twitter @toddneeleyDTN




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