Workers leave the Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Logansport, Indiana, on May 7, 2020.
Michael Conroy/AP Photo
At least 11,496 factory workers in meatpacking and food plants have contracted the coronavirus, according to the Food and Environment Reporting Network.
An additional 48 workers have died of COVID-19.
Food workers across the country have gone on strike or protested factory conditions.
In late April, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said that if meatpacking and food corporations show a “good faith” effort to keep workers safe, safety regulations will not be enforced.
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At least 11,946 meatpacking and food workers have tested positive for COVID-19, and at least 48 have died of it.
The cases and deaths are spread across roughly two farms and 189 meat and processed food factories, according to the Food and Environment Reporting Network, or FERN.
The report comes amid increased attention towards the sanitation and social distancing measures taken at meat-processing facilities across the country amid the coronavirus pandemic. Many of the plants-turned-hotspots are owned by major industry players like Tyson Foods, Cargill, JBS, Hormel, Conagra, and Kraft Heinz. Employers have also seen an increase in strike activity since the pandemic began, as workers demand safer conditions and higher wages.
On Wednesday, 20 workers at a poultry plant in South Carolina walked off the job for fear of viral exposure. Since March, workers have launched protests in Georgia, California, Iowa, Nebraska, and elsewhere.
Smithfield, a meatpacking corporation, reportedly did not initially give safety masks to its workers at one Wisconsin plant.
One worker there was told that his request for a mask was declined because the company would “have to do it for everyone else,” The Intercept reported.
At least 22 meatpacking and food factories have temporarily closed their doors to stem an outbreak on the shop floor, FERN reported.
Others, like a Smithfield factory in South Dakota, have recently opened up again, according to the Associated Press.
If corporations operate in ‘good faith,’ they will not be regulated
On April 29, the top government regulator for worker safety announced it would not enforce coronavirus-related safety guidelines for the plants so long as they demonstrate “good faith” efforts to keep workers safe.
Employers are not required to track coronavirus cases among workers, per recent guidance, and does not require on-site inspections for worker complaints related to the virus.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, known as OSHA, said that if the “good faith” condition is met, the Department of Labor will consider heading off worker lawsuits against their employers.
“Likewise, the Department of Labor will consider similar requests by workers if their employer has not taken steps in good faith to follow the Joint Meat Processing Guidance,” OSHA added in the statement.
OSHA did not say what constituted a “good faith” effort to comply with its guidelines. The agency didn’t respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.
Democrats and Independents slammed the “good faith” guidance in a letter to Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia.
OSHA must “ensure our nation’s workers are meaningfully protected from COVID-19,” said the letter, written by Democratic Sens. Patty Murray of Washington, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico.
OSHA must issue emergency temporary standards, enforceable protections for workers, and general guidance to employers for protecting their workers, said the letter, which was signed by 24 other Democrats and Independent Sens. Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
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