President Donald Trump signed an executive order that allows slaughterhouses to operate during the quarantine. At this point, the fight between companies wanting to operate to provide food goes against unions and activists fighting for worker’s rights has escalated.
An article by Bloomberg reported that the president signed the executive order as the closures of meat processing plants threaten the continuous functioning of national meat and poultry supply chain. Hence, this undermines the critical infrastructure currently in place during the national emergency.
The executive order invokes the Defense Production Act that orders plants to stay open to supply food without disruptions. With the executive order comes the government’s interference by providing protective gear for employees along with guidelines.
This order serves as an intervention after Tyson Foods Inc. paid ads on national newspapers to tell people that the food supply chain is “broken.” Other companies went to voluntary closures after workers fell sick even when plants were allowed to run. Now, companies are asking for permission to operate. The president has shown that he also wants to restart the economy. After all, the economy is extremely affected by the shutdown and continues to do so.
The organization Environmental Working Group considers the Defense Production Act as a potential death sentence. The United Food and Commerical Workers Union also came with a statement arguing that if the workers themselves are unsafe, then the food supply would automatically not be. According to the UFCW, over 5,000 meatpacking workers have tested positive for the virus or were forced to self-quarantine. The report also includes that 20 workers from meat and food processing plants have died due to the disease.
Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, stated, “People should never be expected to put their lives at risk by going to work. If they can’t be assured of their safety, they have every right to make their concerns heard by their employers.”
The president said he plans to sign an order aimed at Tyson’s liability. He did not elaborate as to why and only calling them a roadblock. The order is not limited to Tyson alone. Other processing plants supplying beef, chicken, eggs, and pork will be allowed to operate.
Tyson has been heavily criticized as being very dirty and dangerous to work in, even ranking high in unsafe categories with OSHA.