Meat packing plants and slaughterhouses in Texas are hotspots for coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreaks, including employees and inspectors.
Meat Worker COVID-19 Lawsuits: “If You Die, They’ll Just Replace You Tomorrow”
Meat processing facilities have been hit with a growing number of lawsuits from employees who have been infected with coronavirus or died. One employee who tested positive for coronavirus warned, “Those people don’t care about us. If you die, they’ll just replace you tomorrow.”
Tyson Hit With COVID-19 Death Lawsuit
In May 2020, a COVID-19 death lawsuit was filed against Tyson Foods by the family of a meat-cutter who died of COVID-19 and a severe knee injury she suffered on the job. The lawsuit accuses Tyson of failing to give workers paid sick leave or enough Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to prevent deadly outbreaks of COVID-19.
COVID-19 Death Lawsuit Filed Against Dallas Sausage Company
In May 2020, a coronavirus death lawsuit was filed against Quality Sausage Company in Dallas, Texas.
The lawsuit was filed by the wife of a 36 year-old forklift operator who died in April. His employer allegedly refused to let him take paid sick-leave, or provide workers with any safety precautions:
As his symptoms became evident, he was told to report to work and to keep at it, otherwise he would have been laid off. … A few days later he was gone; pronounced dead at Parkland.”
COVID-19 at Meat Packing Plants in Texas
There are 32 meat processing facilities in Texas, and a growing number of them have suffered deadly coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreaks. Some of the largest outbreaks include:
- Tyson poultry processing plant in Center, Texas
- JBS beef processing facility in Cactus, Texas
- Quality Sausage in Dallas, Texas
What is the Problem?
Meat processing plants are notorious for having thousands of employees working together in tight spaces, often shoulder-to-shoulder for 12-hour shifts. Workers bump into each other in cafeterias, locker rooms, hallways, and break rooms where it is impossible to “social distance.”
USDA Meat Inspectors Are Dying of Coronavirus
An inspector who worked for the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) died after testing positive for COVID-19. The employee had a “patrol assignment” in Chicago, Illinois, visiting several meat processing facilities each day for inspections. In March 2020, another FSIS meat plant inspector died of coronavirus in the New York City area, according to ProPublica.
Why Are Coronavirus Outbreaks So Common at Meat Processing Plants?
Coronavirus outbreaks are becoming very common in meat and poultry processing facilities for several reasons:
- Hundreds of people work close together, even when clocking in/out, taking breaks, or in locker/changing rooms
- Long shifts together (10-12 hours per shift is common)
- Impossible to avoid breathing virus in the air when sick people cough, or touching shared objects like tools, workstations, break room tables
- Inspectors traveling between multiple meat plants every day.
- Workers often share transportation, shuttles, ride-shares, etc.
- Workers have frequent contact with each other in the community and they may live in crowded homes
- Employers may penalize workers who take sick time, resulting in sick people coming to work because they need a paycheck
CDC Issues Guidance for Meat & Poultry Worker Safety
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidance for workers in beef, pork, and poultry processing plants to reduce the risk of coronavirus outbreaks:
- Physically distancing workers. Separate workers by at least 6 feet, if possible. Create physical barriers like Plexiglas or curtains.
- Evaluate ventilation. Minimize exposures from heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. Adjust fans so they do not blow from one worker directly toward another worker.
- Hand-washing. OSHA is requiring employers to provide hand-washing stations and/or hand sanitizer.
- Shorten contacts and increase worker separation. Stagger shifts, add more distance in break-rooms and locker/changing rooms, add multiple stations to clock in and out.