Originally published on Medium.com on 12/9/2020. View original here.
In late November 2020, news broke that a lawsuit filed on behalf of the family of employees of Tyson Foods’ slaughterhouse alleged that managers of this giant corporation placed bets on how many workers would contract COVID 19, a virus that has not only caused havoc worldwide, but has been particularly rampant in slaughterhouses.
Both the ravages of COVID and the impact on slaughterhouse workers in particular should come as no surprise to anyone who has peeled back the curtain to peek at the horrors of this industry. Steady de-regulation in the United States spanning decades and both Republican and Democrat administrations, has resulted in chain speeds drastically increasing. This means that upwards of 1300 pigs per hour are slaughtered at the average slaughterhouse.
Inspection, in this industry, is a joke. As are any semblance of safety precautions. Put bluntly, there is no way for employees who are packed in shoulder to shoulder and slaughtering over 1300 animals per hour, to operate with caution. Not only are repetitive motion injuries common, but so are cuts, injuries and neurological disorders, the result of a modern practice of aerosolizing pig brains and other body parts.
It is suspected that a combination of crowding and this spread of aerosols are partly to blame for creating high levels of contagion of COVID in this industry. Anti-racist activists have rightfully called attention to the disproportionate number of Black, Indigenous and People of Color killed by this virus that others with greater social privilege have managed to avoid or more easily survived.
Since the early 20th century, when Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle, the expose of immigrant worker exploitation in the slaughter industry, what little has changed in terms of reform have eroded as the pendulum has swung back in the direction of corporate power and worker casualties. One thing that has remained consistent, these corporations knowingly recruit the most desperate, marginalized and exploited members of the community to staff their deadliest jobs. The intentional employment of undocumented people, and the leveraging of their unprotected place in our society has been used by companies like Tyson, to ensure a steady flow of cheap labor and to weaken labor unions’ efforts to push back against these behemoths.
The slaughter industry is dehumanizing on every level. The very nature of the work is something the average person prefers to ignore even while feeding into the constant demand for more and more meat consumption. Someone pays the price for our tastes for animal corpses, however. We pay the price in environmental degradation, animal cruelty and now, amidst a pandemic, in continued surges in vulnerable communities.
Recall in the spring of 2020, suggestions of a temporary shut down of slaughterhouses in which COVID was destroying the work force and running rampant was met with firm opposition from the Trump administration. Making it all too clear that if a temporary hiatus from a meat laden diet is too much to ask when human lives are on the line, what chance do we have of any real success in promoting Meatless Monday for the sake of nonhuman animals?
Yet if it comes as a surprise that management in a company like Tyson would be so callous and indifferent as to place bets on the illness of the workforce that keeps their company running, make no mistake, this is not an exceptional case of a few bad apples. It is the culture in slaughter. An industry that not only enacts cruel and violent, sometimes excessive cruelty, towards nonhuman animals, but which also promotes the white supremacist and classist exploitation that empowers those at the upper echelons to treat those working on the chain as if they, too, are little more than pieces of meat.