And 269 workers died as the pandemic raged through the industry last year
THURSDAY, Oct. 28, 2021 (HealthDay News) — The number of U.S. meatpacking workers who were infected during the COVID-19 pandemic is nearly three times higher than previously thought, a U.S. House report shows.
The report said that at least 59,000 workers caught the disease and 269 died as the pandemic raged through the industry last year, and the report authors added that companies could have done more to protect their employees, the Associated Press reported. Because workers stand shoulder-to-shoulder in production lines, the meatpacking industry was one of the early epicenters of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the height of the outbreaks in the spring of 2020, U.S. meatpacking production fell to about 60 percent of normal as several major plants were forced to close for deep cleaning and safety upgrades or operated at slower speeds because of worker shortages.
Previously, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union said 22,400 meatpacking workers were infected or exposed. The new estimates are based on internal documents from five of the nation’s largest meatpacking companies: JBS, Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods, Cargill, and National Beef.
The actual number of affected workers could be higher than the figures from the U.S. House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis because cases confirmed by outside testing or self-reported by employees were not generally included in the companies’ data, the AP reported.
“Instead of addressing the clear indications that workers were contracting the coronavirus at alarming rates due to conditions in meatpacking facilities, meatpacking companies prioritized profits and production over worker safety, continuing to employ practices that led to crowded facilities in which the virus spread easily,” according to the House report.
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