Trump is treating meatpacking workers ‘like cannon fodder’: columnist

Trump is treating meatpacking workers ‘like cannon fodder’: columnist
President Donald J. Trump speaks with reporters after disembarking Air Force One Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019 at Joint Base Andrews, Md. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

From Iowa to South Dakota, meatpacking plants in the United States have been plagued by coronavirus outbreaks — and workers are fearing for their safety. Nonetheless, President Donald Trump has used the Defense Production Act of 1950 to keep the plants open.

Liberal opinion writer Eugene Robinson, this week in his Washington Post column, argues that Trump isn’t doing enough to protect those who work in such plants — and that he values meat over the health and safety of meatpacking workers.

“Trump has stubbornly refused to use his executive powers to compel the production of personal protective equipment, such as masks and gowns, for front-line medical workers,” Robinson observes. “He boasts about the chummy ‘partnerships’ he supposedly brokered with corporate bigwigs to acquire ventilators and to launch a still-inadequate testing program. But when executives from meat-processing companies began speaking out about the danger that outbreaks of COVID-19 posed to their businesses, our meatloaf-loving president almost immediately invoked the Defense Production Act to force the plants to stay open — but not to guarantee that employees will be kept safe.”

Robinson notes that on the White House website, Trump has “declared the meatpacking plants part of the nation’s ‘critical infrastructure’ and said ‘closure of any of these plants could disrupt our food supply and detrimentally impact our hard-working farmers and ranchers.’ Make no mistake: he was designating the workers in these protein factories not essential but expendable.”

Although the Post columnist agrees that it is crucial for food to continue reaching the United States’ supermarkets, he stresses that it doesn’t have to happen at the expense of those working in meatpacking plants.

“Maintaining an adequate flow of food to grocery stores and still-functioning restaurants is necessary,” Robinson explains. “But the meat industry, which has been criticized for decades over its working conditions, turns out to be an ideal environment for spreading the highly contagious coronavirus. Because of the way workers are stationed — and because of the high speed at which processing lines are designed to run — it is difficult to implement social distancing without upending the entire production process. If the fight against COVID -19 is a war, workers ordered to go back into these plants have every right to feel like cannon fodder.”

Robinson wraps up his column by emphasizing that during the coronavirus pandemic, it is possible to promote safer working conditions in meatpacking plants — although Trump is failing to do so.

“Trump could have saved lives by issuing tough, specific, mandatory requirements for meat processors to slow down their lines, institute proper social distancing, frequently shut down plants for deep cleaning and repeatedly test all workers to isolate the infected,” Robinson writes. “But no: that would have meant asking the nation to survive on fewer bacon cheeseburgers for a while. Bon appétit!”

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