Trump Policy Maximizes Deaths in Food Factories

Even before coronavirus spread to the United States, the risk to meat-packing plants was known. Major meat-packers in the US are either owned by Chinese companies (Smithfield) or have factories in China (JBS and Cargill). Still, the plants were slow to offer their workers masks, much less space out the lines sufficient to prevent infections. In most cases, workers were not given sick pay to encourage infected workers to stay home.

All of those policies could have cut down on infections. Those policies might have prevented shutdowns of at least 15 plants. Those policies are within the emergency authority of OSHA. AFL-CIO called on OSHA to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard for protecting workers back on March 6. And a bunch of Democratic Senators called on Eugene Scalia to do the same days later.

At the time, a number of industries wanted to mandate masks, but could not because of the shortage of personal protective equipment destined for medical workers. Trump could have deployed the Defense Production Act to mandate manufacturers like 3M to prioritize first line workers.

Trump didn’t do any of that.

Indeed, OSHA waited until yesterday to issue non-mandatory guidance for meat facilities. Upwards of 20 workers at a number of facilities have died. Even a food inspector died.

And today — as livestock slaughter starts to backlog and red state voters contemplate lost sales — Trump will announce he’s going to (try to) use the DPA to mandate that meatpacking plants — including some that have closed because of COVID outbreaks — open and remain that way (it’s not clear the DPA authority extends this far). Apparently, he will provide liability protection for the companies, even as their workers continue to infect each other and their surrounding communities.

Trump’s action might address the failure of the food supply chain.

But along the way, his inaction will have led to infections and death before today, and any success he has at forcing workers to work while sick will lead to infections and death after today. At each stage, Trump’s policies have maximized the deaths of workers.

He has only prioritized that his meatpacker executive donors can keep killing cows and pigs and chickens, along with their workers.

Update: UFCW, which represents some of the affected workers, demands that this order include safety provisions. It reveals the union wrote Pence last week asking for five safety actions:

In the last week, UFCW sent a letter to Vice President Pence urgently calling for the White House Coronavirus Task Force to prioritize five safety actions targeted toward the meatpacking industry, including: (1) increased worker testing, (2) priority access to PPE, (3) halting line speed waivers, (4) mandating social distancing, and (5) isolating workers with symptoms or testing positive for COVID-19.

Today, new internal UFCW estimates have confirmed 20 worker deaths in meatpacking and food processing. In addition, at least 5,000 meatpacking workers and 1,500 food processing workers have been directly impacted by the virus. Those directly impacted include individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19, missed work due to self-quarantine, are awaiting test results, or have been hospitalized, and/or are symptomatic.

UFCW announced today that new estimates show 22 meatpacking plants have closed – including union and non-union plants – at some point in the past two months. These closures have resulted in over 35,000 workers impacted and a 25 percent reduction in pork slaughter capacity as well as a 10 percent reduction in beef slaughter capacity.

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51 replies
    • P J Evans says:

      He’s getting roasted over coals for that, too – and so is Mayo Clinic, for ignoring their own rules.

    • PhoneInducedPinkEye says:

      This is worse than when he tromped all over that sacred Michigan island with his convey of 6 ton limousines/SUVs.

      I can’t believe they are still trying to make a play for MN, it’s just not going to happen. We have decent access to the ballot and historically high turnout, it’s harder for them to cheat like in WI.

    • Martin from Canada says:

      Isn’t this just normal christian fatalism like Caroleans or Stonewall Jackson never ducking in the face of incoming bullets as an act of faith?

    • e.a.f. says:

      it would serve him right if he came down with a good case of COVID 19, something that gives him some real insight into the pain involved with the virus if you’re trying to breath. A ventilator down his throat wouldn’t hurt either. Then he can re assess his position on all of it. He clearly doesn’t understand what this virus is all about. A dose of it might make him see the light.

      • bmaz says:

        Um, no, we don’t wish for crap like that here. On anyone. I know these are emotional times, but don’t do that.

        • e.a.f. says:

          after W;W. II they tried and hung some of the principle NAZIs. As I do recall the U.S.A was part of that. Now they have an President who is sending people to their deaths by trying to force them to go to work. I don’t seem much difference, its just the numbers.

          I don’t believe in capital punishment, and I don’t wish death on Pence, just a little of his own medicine. Some times they really need to know what they are doing to others.

          bmaz you’re a better person than I am.

  1. Frank Probst says:

    Cue the governor of South Dakota to come out and make some crazy-ass statement. It’s just a matter of time.

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Good illustration of what Trump means by “the economy.” He means Wall Street, owners and employers. They should continue to work and profit, but employees, suppliers, and the shopping public be damned.

    Trump refuses to impose workplace safety – and public health – rules, which lobbyists such as his current Sec’y of Labor, Eugene Scalia, have successfully fought for decades. But he would extend immunity from liability for running a business – liberating it – in a way that fails to use reasonable methods to limit the spread of disease such as Covid-19. That is the definition moral hazard. It would directly harm workers, consumers and suppliers (whose staff are often directly responsible for restocking inventory), in order to reward business owners.

    Stealing from workers to pad bidness profits is an old game. But Trump’s proposal would give it a deadly new twist. Moreover, his legion of new adolescent FedSoc judges would be likely to bless it as they rush to institute a new Lochner Era. Avoiding liability for intentionally bad or reckless conduct must also be a perennial wet dream for the aging Trump, whose idea of good judgment is to swallow bleach to fight an infection.

    • P J Evans says:

      It goes with removing environmental regulations “because of Covid-19” when the regulations are about clean water and air, and restricting release of pollutants that have zero to do with the virus.

  3. OldTulsaDude says:

    I hope the good hard-working people of West Virginia and Kentucky are watching closely, and it is registering with them just how little Trump and Co. actually care about the working classes.

  4. BobCon says:

    The stupidity behind this is the belief that the workers are all replacable cogs in a machine, instead of highly skilled employees.

    The ag economy is loaded with jobs from fruit picking to fish fileting where the supply system breaks down if a fairly small number of people who have niche skills can’t work. You can’t just hammer new people into place to replace the sick or the unwilling.

  5. Tom says:

    Interesting that Smithfield is also the name of the place in London, England where public executions were carried out from medieval times to the renaissance era.

  6. greengiant says:

    If you are a sailor, go to quarantine, if you are a worker get fired with no benefits. I can imagine the AG coming down on any boycotts.
    Throw 58 million small business owners under the bus but meat producers and packers … Hog prices have moved from 72 in March to 35 April 14 to over 60 to 55. Live cattle from 120 to 85..

    • P J Evans says:

      Gas prices in L.A. have dropped about about 50 cents a gallon – from roughly 3.40 to 2.90.

      • greengiant says:

        Was below a buck a gallon in the Midwest. Lower demand for ethanol has caused a 67 percent allotment cut for food grade CO2 for water supply purification and soda pop.

  7. Eureka says:

    Related issue, major finding: Montco PA tested all inmates and staff at the county jail within a 48-hour time period: _over 96% of positives were asymptomatic at the time of testing_. (Also they had released ~ 600+ inmates prior to this, IIRC from elsewhere).

    Thread with some graphics:

    Jeremy Roebuck: “Montgomery County’s jail tested every inmate for COVID-19 — and found 30 times more cases than previously known. What does that suggest for other corrections facilities in region? w/ @AESteele via @phillyinquirer [article link]”

    “That many asymptomatic cases raises serious questions about how effective contact tracing can be implemented among the general population when the testing of asymptomatic people in Philly area is next to non-existent, public health experts say.…”
    https://twitter.com/jeremyrroebuck/status/1255263885529174018

    More (including known cases/projections based on this finding for other Phila area jails/prison):

    Montgomery County’s jail tested every inmate for COVID-19 — and found 30 times more cases than previously known
    https://www.inquirer.com/news/coronavirus-testing-montgomery-county-jail-asymptomatic-philadelphia-prisons-20200428.html

    • Smeelbo says:

      Forgive me, but I would not be surprised to see prisoners who have survived COVID-19 to be pressed into staffing meatpacking plants.

      Arbeit Macht Frei.

      • Eureka says:

        Yesterday (April 29) was the 75th anniversary* of the beginning of the liberation of Dachau, the oldest Nazi camp system.

        *Also of the largest POW camp, Stalag VIIA

        Of course all the RWNJ know what happened 75y ago today.

  8. greengiant says:

    Analysis of how much contact tracing could help if only those testing positive similar to today could be traced. https://twitter.com/trvrb/status/1254575445229441024
    18.4 percent of inmates positive on the way to Marion Ohio type levels compares to 8 percent positive in ages 20 to 49 in cruise ship data from February.
    20 to 39 year olds are 1.9 percent of fatalities in NY state. 323 deaths to date. In NYC 0 to 17 are about 2.1 percent of those positive, and 18 to 44 are 53,941 of 146,139 positive as of April 23.
    Seattle Flu study has been doing self selected testing from March 23 to April 9 and found only 2 positives of 1392 samples who reported no Covid like symptoms and 44 from 2700 reporting symptoms.
    https://publichealthinsider.com/2020/04/17/greater-seattle-coronavirus-assessment-network-scan-releases-data-from-first-18-days-of-testing/

  9. Eureka says:

    Speaking directly to the post — and to de facto risks to meat processing workers beyond even what the union* asks gov. to mitigate — an investigative heartbreaker out tonight (the writers do a great job of keeping contexts interwoven):

    Deadly ride: How coronavirus struck down Bell & Evans poultry workers going to work in a crowded van
    https://www.inquirer.com/business/coronavirus-bell-evans-chicken-deaths-covid-19–20200428.html

    One of the authors (thread):

    Jessica Calefati: “President Trump is ordering meat processing facilities to stay open. That’s a decision that has been deadly at a chicken plant in Pennsylvania. Here’s our story. [link above]”
    https://twitter.com/Calefati/status/1255283714642317312

    “Workers rode to the chicken plant in a crowded van. Now one of them has died from the coronavirus and one of their husbands caught the virus and died as well. Even more are sick.”

    “I’m thankful to the workers who shared their stories. One of them told me he wanted to stand up for his colleague who died. “He was my brother. That’s why I want to fight for him.””


    *in Marcy’s post. The workers interviewed in the linked story aren’t unionized.

  10. e.a.f. says:

    It doesn’t matter how many workers die. Trump and his gang simply don’t care. Its all about his friends/political financiers continuing to make money. now given how unpleasant he has been towards China you do have to wonder why he would want to ensure a Chinese owned corporation was open and placing American workers in harm’s way. Perhaps its more about the money he owes the Chinese bank.

    It is staggering how many Americans are dying from the virus and Trump treats it like its no big deal. He tries to force workers back to work without protection. Perhaps Trump will be the first America president tried by the Court of the Hague for Crimes against Humanity. Might be something the Union ought to pursue

    As to those who voted for trump, they can learn to live with it or die because of it. Trump, Pence, Moscow Mitch, etc. are no better than any other murderers. Trying to force workers to go some where they will have a good chance of catching a disease that will kill them is beyond the pale of things. They complain about China and its brutal dictatorship, well in my opinion the trump organization is no better Reminds me of Union history when mine workers were forced to go to work in mines which would cave in or explode. Not much has changed in the u.s.a. it is fast becoming a failed state with a murderer leading it. One could conclude he is set out to destroy the U.S.A. and everything it stood for. Putin couldn’t do a better job if he tried

  11. Jerome Steele says:

    Have they released the text of the Executive Order yet? I haven’t been able to find it or any language on just how far these “liability protections” extend. One has to imagine this will be litigated.

    • harpie says:

      Here’s the EO:
      Executive Order on Delegating Authority Under the DPA with Respect to Food Supply Chain Resources During the National Emergency Caused by the Outbreak of COVID-19
      https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/executive-order-delegating-authority-dpa-respect-food-supply-chain-resources-national-emergency-caused-outbreak-covid-19/
      Issued on: April 28, 2020

      I could NOT find it on the WH website this morning, but Steve Vladeck linked to it last night, here:

      https://twitter.com/steve_vladeck/status/1255313647284424706
      9:51 PM · Apr 28, 2020

      I don’t mean to cause trouble, but I think these headlines are getting it wrong. Nothing in the text of the Order claims any power to force plants to “stay open,” and nothing in the statutory sections on which the Order purports to rely delegates such authority. Here’s why: […]

      • harpie says:

        More from Vladeck:

        […] There’s no authority under this provision to *force* private businesses to do anything other than prioritize federal contracts. […]

        and none of *those* [chapter III] provisions include compelled openings either. […]

        All of this is to say that, once again, we’re buying into how the White House is *describing* the President’s actions rather than carefully parsing the actions *themselves.* […] this EO actually seems fairly uncontroversial. /end

        But, also, *once again*
        this EO feeds Trump’s NEED to SEEM to be ACTING STRONGLY!

        • harpie says:

          Also, having this FAKE ORDER [and the mis-perception of it] helps excuse OWNERS of culpability for theirOWN ACTIONS.

          • Rayne says:

            Wondering if somewhere there’s a limit on liability created by the invocation of this order without actually ordering anything to be done.

          • vvv says:

            IANAL, well, OK, I am but not particularly experienced with this kinda stuff. That said, the order provides:
            “Under the delegation of authority provided in this order, the Secretary of Agriculture shall take all appropriate action under that section to ensure that meat and poultry processors continue operations consistent with the guidance for their operations jointly issued by the CDC and OSHA. ”

            Further, it references: “… the authority of the President to require performance of contracts or orders (other than contracts of employment) to promote the national defense over performance of any other contracts or orders, to allocate materials, services, and facilities as deemed necessary or appropriate to promote the national defense, and to implement the Act in subchapter III of chapter 55 of title 50, United States Code (50 U.S.C. 4554, 4555, 4556, 4559, 4560”

            (Order also states within, “Accordingly, I find that meat and poultry in the food supply chain meet the criteria specified in section 101(b) of the Act (50 U.S.C. 4511(b)) – {(b)Critical and strategic materials
            The powers granted in this section shall not be used to control the general distribution of any material in the civilian market unless the President finds (1) that such material is a scarce and critical material essential to the national defense, and (2) that the requirements of the national defense for such material cannot otherwise be met without creating a significant dislocation of the normal distribution of such material in the civilian market to such a degree as to create appreciable hardship.}”

            50 U.S. Code § 4556 says, “(a)Whenever in the judgment of the President any person has engaged or is about to engage in any acts or practices which constitute or will constitute a violation of any provision of this chapter, he may make application to the appropriate court for an order enjoining such acts or practices, or for an order enforcing compliance with such provision, and upon a showing by the President that such person has engaged or is about to engage in any such acts or practices a permanent or temporary injunction, restraining order, or other order, with or without such injunction or restraining order, shall be granted without bond.”

            Q.E.D: I read this as providing basis (essential to nat’l defense) and method (injunctions, orders) for enforcement.

            I couldn’t find anything re liability re the providers, just the government, which is protected from same.

  12. Tom says:

    As Rachel Maddow says, “Watch what they do, not what they say.” So Mike Pence, head of the Coronavirus Task Force, pays a visit to the Mayo Clinic yesterday and decides to ignore the hospital’s policy and be the only one not wearing a mask, thus sending the message that “real men don’t wear masks.” Also underlining his master’s position that we’re over the hump of this thing and despite nearly 60,000 dead Americans the virus really isn’t that dangerous.

    • Chris.EL says:

      One entrance labeled “masked” (leading to the facility) and one entrance labeled “not masked” (puts visitor into a closet as door locks behind).
      Just being “sarcastic,” of course…

      • P J Evans says:

        “Not masked” puts them in a corridor where the only door that will open is the one to the outside.

  13. madwand says:

    It also looks like some red states will deny unemployment benefits to those who refuse to go to work because they feel it is unsafe. Just when you think Republicans can’t hurt themselves more, they rise up to the occasion.

  14. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Some context about Trump’s claim that he wants workplace safety protections in his E.O., commanding that meat processing plants stay open. A pandemic aside, summer barbecues and an election are coming, and people forced to stay at home want their fridges full of meat to feel safe.

    Meat production in America is a ruthless, just-in-time factory process. Margins and deadlines are tight, and Mother Nature won’t wait. Delays cause massive problems. There’s no safe place to put the shit from factory farms, let alone a way to economically dispose of millions of unprocessed carcasses. Restarting production is slow and expensive. Industry contracts put most of the business risk on farmer-suppliers. Systemic disruption would lead to thousands of them entering bankruptcy, which the GOP doesn’t want to read about in an election year.

    A key player in setting policy about all this is Trump’s Secretary of Labor, Eugene Scalia. Son of the late conservative Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia, Eugene is a lobbyist and labor law partner at a white shoe law firm in DC. He frequently walks through DC’s revolving door, helping Republican administrations keep their patrons happy. When working for BushCheney, Scalia personally axed proposed workplace ergonomics rules, which had been painfully worked out over a long period. Ergonomics studies the human health consequences of where and how people work. A particular focus is the effect of repetitive motion, whether typing on a keyboard or gutting hundreds of fish an hour.

    The rules Scalia axed would have required employers to adopt workplace safety rules. For meat, fish, and poultry slaughterhouses, that would have meant slower production lines. (They far exceed speeds permitted in Europe.) Businesses like Tyson Foods argued the rules would have cut profits. Labor argued they were necessary to cut the vast numbers of dangerous accidents and permanent injury. Profits won. Eugene Scalia is the last man who would credibly prioritize workplace safety over extracting profit from physical labor.

    • John K says:

      I’d like to think that there would be some way for the workers to hold out until their respective CEOs were forced to spend time on the front lines without any PPE. You know, like having them greet customers at the door, work cash registers, etc.

      • e.a.f. says:

        might be more fun if all the infected workers could drop by the offices of the CEOs and shake hands with them, etc. some ought to take these ceo’s and show them what their actions have done–i.e. killed people. show their kids what great parents they have, they murder workers. On the other hand the CEOs don’t care just as long as the money continues to roll in.

        if the workers are all ill they have a legitiate reason to stay home. just stay home. with immigration cut off, who will work in these slaughter houses.

        Makes you wonder when trump and ceos will put up the slogans they had at some of the concentration camps in Europe. working people until they’re dead is just so nazi. welcome to the new U.S.A.

        people complain about labour camps in China, well what is so different from these slaughter houses and what trump is setting up. oh, right in china they used to send the family of those executed the price of the bullet. In the USA the families of the dead will have to pay for the funerals and the medical costs prior to the death of their loved ones all because donni wants to ensure his friends or political supporters can make money.

        Perhaps its time for workers to bring reality to the homes of these ceos and protest with pictures of their dead loved ones in front of their homes. The kids might ask the parental units why those people are accusing them of killing people. A little protest can go a long way. O.K. its not nice, but some times that is what is called for

    • Wm. Boyce says:

      The larger problem w/this (and many other) industry is consolidation into a few huge players, who then squeeze the living daylights out of their non-unionized, largely immigrant workforce.
      There was a piece on “Marketplace” this afternoon that reported from some of these factories. It’s real mess w/lots of waste because they weren’t prepared. But there was an independent slaughterhouse that processed meat for Niman Ranch. Higher quality, and of course, higher prices, and no virus outbreak there.

  15. gmoke says:

    Trmp et alia are using the Defense Production Act to “nationalize” businesses for his cronies and exempt them from any liability. They have been making big $$$$$ on PPE by having FEMA confiscate supplies and deliver them to distributors whom, I am sure, are providing kickbacks to Trmp et alia.

    Trmp’s modus operandi has always been a Mafia bust-out on a national scale:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WeK9e07Y65o

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