“As of June 9, there have been at least 24,000 reported positive cases tied to meatpacking facilities in at least 232 plants in 33 states, and at least 86 reported worker deaths at 38 plants in 23 states.” Tyson Foods among meatpacking companies reported by far the greatest number of cases. (From here.)
A May news article said that immigrants make up nearly 40% of the meatpacking (or meatprocessing) industry’s 470,000 workers with higher concentrations in states like South Dakota, where they are 58% of workers and Nebraska, where they are 66%,. Estimates on illegal immigrants very from 14% to the majority in some plants.
Meatpacking is one of the top concerns in the country for occupational safety.
A Southern Poverty Law Center report in 2013 focused on the speed of the production line: “An overwhelming majority of workers surveyed, 78 percent, asserted that “line speed makes them feel less safe, makes their work more painful and causes more injuries.”
The GAO concluded a 2017 report on meatpacking plants that “worker safety and health problems persist and improvements are needed in identifying worker concerns, strengthening federal collaboration, and protecting workers from certain chemicals. Workers we spoke with reported they are reluctant to report injuries, illnesses, and hazards because they fear losing their jobs. There is a mismatch between concerns we heard from workers and the problems reported by OSHA, particularly in the area of bathroom access.”
The Centers for Disease Control reports on meat processing plants: Sociocultural and economic challenges to COVID-19 prevention in meat and poultry processing facilities include accommodating the needs of workers from diverse backgrounds who speak different primary languages; one facility reported a workforce with 40 primary languages.
Some employees were incentivized to work while ill as a result of medical leave and disability policies and attendance bonuses that could encourage working while experiencing symptoms [i.e. no sick leave – PFR]. Finally, many workers live in crowded, multigenerational settings and sometimes share transportation to and from work, contributing to increased risk for transmission of COVID-19 outside the facility itself. Changing transportation to and from the facilities to increase the number of vehicles and reduce the number of passengers per vehicle helped maintain physical distancing in some facilities.
In early April, CDC was alerted to COVID-19 cases among workers in several meat and poultry processing facilities and responded to state and local authorities’ requests for on-site or remote technical assistance.
By April 27, CDC had received aggregate data on COVID-19 cases from 19 of 23 states reporting at least one case related to this industry; there were 115 meat or poultry processing facilities with COVID-19 cases, including 4,913 workers with diagnosed COVID-19. Among 17 states reporting the number of workers in their affected facilities, 3.0% of 130,578 workers received diagnoses of COVID-19. Twenty COVID-19–related deaths were reported among workers.
Facility challenges included structural and operational practices that made it difficult to maintain a 6-foot (2-meter) distance while working, especially on production lines, and in nonproduction settings during breaks and while entering and exiting facilities. The pace and physical demands of processing work made adherence to face covering recommendations difficult, with some workers observed covering only their mouths and frequently readjusting their face coverings while working. Some sites were also observed to have difficulty adhering to the heightened cleaning and disinfection guidance recommended for all worksites to reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission.
From an Indian report just published: If someone looks into the history of pandemics then they will see that in most cases explorations, conquest, commerce and migrations have paved the way for the development of networks that resulted in the spread of pandemics in different parts of the world.
The small pox, plague, yellow fever, cholera, Russian flu, Asian flu, Swine flu, Syphilis, HIV in most cases spread at first in different parts of the world with various kinds of migrants and mobile traders, missionaries, ship crew, army troops and rich planters. The locally settled, immobile or less mobile or mobile people in inter or intra state appears as ‘passive innocent recipient’ of these pandemics and became ‘compelled carrier’ of these diseases.
In the case of Corona affluent, frequent flyers, business entrepreneurs, travelers, those who are studying or working abroad, singers, players of international tournaments have emerged as first carriers of this virus. It has also circulated in India through skilled or semi-skilled lower middle class or middle-class Indian migrants working in Middle East but Corona may have brought even in Middle Eastern countries by its affluent and mobile sections who may have been frequent flyers themselves.
In the second century BC, ‘Antonine plague ‘, which circulated in Rome, it is said came with the army troops who returned from Middle East after a war. The ‘Justinian plague’ also reached Constantinople around 541 AD with grain ships from China travelling via African and Egypt. It spread through the crew, merchants, ship managers, soldiers and workers. Some historians believe that the 1871 Plague which was recognized as the ‘Indian Plague’ all over the world in fact did not originate in Bengal but reached Bengal with the Irish army and travelled to various parts of Bengal and also other parts of India with army troops and traders.
Badri Narayan Tiwari, In Borders and Epidemic: COVID 19 and migrant workers
Why did the Trump administration invoke the Defense Production Act on April 28 to keep meat processing plants open? Answer: in order to shield the plant owners from liability suits, including from employees, very many of whom are immigrants. I posted about this on April 20 here.
The Wall Street Journal reported that “White House officials said that they feared as much as 80% of the industry’s processing capacity could have been shut down without action from the administration.”
Michael Duff, a professor at Wyoming University’s College of Law and a blogger on employee rights, cites the pertinent court decisions which affirm the law’s ability to remove threats of tort actions.
The pandemic is sweeping through the nation’s meat processing industry. Infected workers have been reported in South Dakots, Missouri, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Kansas, Colorado, Georgia, Texas, Washington, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. A major share of the country’s poultry, beef and pork product production is shutting down.
Meat processing workers, half or more of whom are foreign-born, work side by side. Labor advocates say that they have not seen any plant undertake as yet safe practices related to the pandemic.
I have followed the situation in Iowa, there the apparently first verified case of an infected meat processing worker showed up three weeks ago in Marshalltown, where a JBS (formerly Swift) plant employs about 2,000 persons. As of today. JBS has shut down plants in Minnesota, Colorado, and Pennsylvania. Smithfield has shut down plants in at least South Dakota, Missouri and Wisconsin.
The first plant in Iowa to shut down was Tyson’s plant in Columbus Junction, where over one hundred workers were diagnosed with the virus and two died.
I spoke with several people in Iowa, including Mark Cooper, Rafael Morataya and Joe Enriquez Henry, president of the Des Moines chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). Within 250 miles of Des Moines are plants that produce 70% of the country’s pork products. Henry estimates that three quarters of the workers in these plants are foreign born. Most are from Latin America, but they also include Africans and Asians.
Henry says that OHSA did not respond to three letters, the first one sent three weeks ago. A letter signed by 66 organizations was sent to Governor Kim Reynolds on April 15.
Henry estimates that three or four Iowa plants were closed as of April 20. He says that safety protections are straightforward – space the workers out, and slow down the pace to enable workers to work eight hours with masks on.
Photo: Earl Dotter
On March 20, the Centers for Disease Control issued a largely unnoticed but sweeping order authorizing the summary expulsion of noncitizens arriving at the Mexican border without valid documents. It allows all others with proper papers to pass through.
The CDC Order is based on an emergency Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Interim Final Rule issued simultaneously with the Order under the authority of an obscure provision of the 1944 Public Health Service Act. Section 362 of that Act authorizes the Surgeon General to suspend “introduction of persons or goods” into the United States on public health grounds.
There is no requirement that a barred person actually be infected or contagious, or that the individuals themselves actually pose a danger to public health. And under the rule no individualized determination is required.
For more than a year, the administration has sought unsuccessfully to undo the asylum system at the southern border claiming that exigencies and limited government resources compel abrogating rights and protections for refugees and other noncitizens.
In 2017, there were 22 million noncitizens residing in the United States, accounting for about 7% of the total U.S. population. Noncitizens include lawfully present and undocumented immigrants.
Their healthcare coverage:
Noncitizens are significantly more likely than citizens to be uninsured. Among the nonelderly population, 23% of lawfully present immigrants and more than four in ten (45%) undocumented immigrants are uninsured compared to less than one in ten (8%) citizens. (go here.)
The stricter public charge rule, which went into effect on February, well cause many of these people to withdraw from Medicaid and other financial and health assistance program. (go here).
Paid sick leave coverage:
There is no survey on which non-citizen immigrants enjoy paid sick leave. However, many of these persons (including in all likelihood most undocumented workers – 8 million) are low wage earners, and 47% of the lowest quarter of workers in wage earnings have paid sick leave compared to 90% of the top quarter (private sector). More info on paid sick leave issues is here.
Faith-based organizations have long served as key partners to UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) in providing services and protection to refugees and migrants. They include Lutheran World Federation, Islamic Relief Worldwide, and Caritas, a federation of 165 Catholic organizations.
For example, after the 2011 Côte d’Ivoire presidential elections, over half a million people were displaced. Local faith institutions and FBOs including parishes of the Roman Catholic Church, Caritas, Muslim mosques and communities, and Charismatic groups, stepped up to provide immediate emergency shelters and humanitarian assistance
An April 2018 study by Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities (FADICA) and Boston College’s Center for Social Innovation highlighted dozens of pioneering faith-based programs providing protection for refugees and migrants (FADICA 2018, 1). These programs address root causes of migration, provide protection in transit, and facilitate successful resettlement through the provision of shelter, skills training, and trauma-healing.
Small-scale faith-based programs can have a huge impact for individuals to whom they serve as a lifeline in the midst of a treacherous journey. The Home for Migrants Shelter “Bethlehem” in Tapachula, Mexico at the Guatemalan border is one such program (SIMN 2014). Under the leadership of Scalabrinian priest Father Florenzo Rigoni, c.s., the shelter provides respite and vital services for migrants regardless of their identities and complexities. Pregnant girls, individuals with HIV and other infectious diseases, victims of sex trafficking, former prostitutes, and transgender individuals, are all welcomed and served through the on-site provision of wrap-around medical, financial, educational, and spiritual support at the shelter.
Researchers interviewed immigrant dairy workers in Colorado. 29% had sustained at least one work injury in the past year (official government average for diary workers is 6%). About 60% were caused by cows. A third did not tell their supervisor. Only 20% received medical care. One third had not received any safety training. Half had not told their doctor that they worked at a dairy farm.
Background: Studies of work injuries worldwide show a consistent pattern of higher occupational morbidity and mortality among immigrant workers.
A study of occupational fatalities of Hispanic construction workers in the U.S. from 1992 to 2000 found that Hispanics constituted 15% of construction workers in 2000 but suffered 23.5% of fatal construction injuries.
Global data on immigration and occupational injury are limited but tend to confirm the findings from U.S. studies. An Australian study of occupational fatalities found increased rates among foreign-born workers within 5 years of immigration.
Many investigators have speculated on the causes of increased occupational fatalities among immigrant workers. Common explanations include the assignment of more hazardous tasks to immigrant workers, failure of employers to invest in safety training and equipment, greater
risk-taking by immigrant workers, and failure to complain about unsafe conditions by workers who may have precarious job status.
(Dairy information from Lauren Mengre-Ogle et al, Occupational safety and health of foreign born Latinx dairy workers in Colorado. American Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine January 2019. Background information from Marc Shenker, A global perspective of migration and occupational Health. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 2010)
Self-identified Mexican adult immigrants in California have health insurance at 10% below the rate for the entire adult national population. Over 20% remain uninsured. This is after the Affordable Care Act gave many of them coverage and California worked diligently to expand coverage
California was an early adopter of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, being one of the few states that received a waiver to begin the expansion in 2011. One of the main challenges that the state encountered with the ACA implementation was the health insurance eligibility among its foreign-born population, especially undocumented immigrants. California has the largest undocumented population in the country: Approximately one-quarter of all undocumented immigrants in the US live in the state.29 Our study showed that lack of legal status remains an important barrier to health insurance coverage and access to and use of health care in California.
Before the Affordable Care Act, 68% of self-identified Mexican adult immigrants in California (including U.S. born) had health insurance. After ACA’s implementation, 78% had insurance. (Mexican born persons account for about 80% of all Latin American adults.) Compare that with Puerto Ricans in California – 87% had insurance before, and 94% had insurance after.
In 2016, throughout the U.S. 88% of persons between 19 and 64 were insured. (Go here).
Nationwide, non-Latino whites in 2016 were 94% covered; blacks, 90%; Asians 92%; Latinos, 84%.
Two factors are associated with the lower rate for Mexicans: undocumented status and poor English. Third, lower income persons were less covered by insurance compared to higher income Mexicans.
From Health Affairs, September 2018