Trump has a plan to make meatpacking workers' lives more miserable - 2020-09-03
Outside of the healthcare industry, few workforces have been hit as hard by the coronavirus pandemic as the people who work in meatpacking plants. According to the heroic data journalism of the Food and Agriculture Reporting Network's Leah Douglas, more than 40,000 meatpacking workers have been infected with the virus, and 200 have died. At the same time, the Trump Administration is pushing for a policy change that will put thousands of the industry's workers under yet more pressure—by allowing chicken companies to speed up their slaughter lines by 25 percent.
Right now, poultry workers in most plants dismember and trim chickens as they head down the disassembly line at a rate of 140 birds per minute. At this pace, they already experience alarmingly high rates of repetitive stress injuries like carpal tunnel. The blistering pace of kill lines has been a major driver of the industry's COVID-19 catastrophe, because workers have to bunch together shoulder-to-shoulder to handle the load, making social distancing very hard, if not impossible. Trump's Department of Labor, headed by former management-side labor lawyer Eugene Scalia, has declined to issue strict social distancing rules on meatpacking plants during the COVID crisis, instead settling on voluntary guidelines suggesting that plants tweak the alignment of workstations "if feasible," and "consider" making signs to urge workers to physically distance. (Here's my recent piece on the career of Scalia, who is the son of the late Supreme Court justice, and its dire impact on the well-being of meatpacking workers.)
For the industry, a faster kill line means lower cost and thus more profit.