The Southern Workers Assembly “Safe Jobs Save Lives” campaign released this statement on May 2 after the April 28 presidential “Get back to work” order was issued.
On April 28, Workers Memorial Day — a day when the labor movement commemorates workers who have died on the job — and while the U.S. tops a staggering 61,000 deaths related to COVID-19, President Donald Trump utilized his powers under the Defense Production Act to order meat and poultry processing plants to stay open.
Meat processing plants are COVID-19 hotspots of infection. This is another move which prioritizes corporate profits over the lives of workers, many of whom are Latinx, African American and immigrant.
More than 150 of the largest U.S. meat processing plants operate in counties — many in rural areas of the U.S. South — where the rate of coronavirus infection is already among the country’s highest. Rates of infection around these plants are higher than those in 75 percent of other U.S. counties. The South is also a region where many of the governors are calling for workers to return to work, representing a strong base of anti-working-class racism and political conservatism.
While the bosses claim the industry has thus far maintained sufficient production, union leaders have pointed out that 20 workers have died, and at least 5,000 meatpacking workers and 1,500 food processing workers have been directly impacted by the virus at 48 plants. Those in the South are impacted by industrial pollution that is unregulated, affecting the health of millions and making them more vulnerable to COVID-19.
Meatpacking and slaughter companies can be found in every state in the South.
With the Trump Administration and Congressional Republicans blocking OSHA [Occupational, Safety and Health Administration] from issuing a rule protecting essential employees during COVID-19, workers say they have little choice but to take matters into their own hands.
Meatpacking workers all over the country, working in freezing cold rooms and unable to practice social distancing, have staged walk-outs demanding workplace safety from Kathleen, Ga., to Timberville, Va.
Meatpacking Workers in the South Need to Unite, Organize and Struggle!
Join the Southern Workers Assembly’s Safe Jobs Save Lives Campaign:
• Don’t Go to Work without a solid agreement that guarantees testing, monitoring, PPE [personal protective equipment], separation of work stations, 100% health care family coverage for virus treatment.
• If you don’t have a union, form a workers’ committee right away and open up discussions with management on these issues, and depending what they say and do, move to take protective collective actions.
• We call upon other workers and the general public to support meatpacking workers with a boycott of brands that refuse to abide by Safe Jobs Saves Lives mutual agreements.
• Connect with other workers in industries and employment sectors in the Safe Jobs Save Lives Campaign by contacting [email protected].
For more on the campaign, go to southernworker.org.