Meatpacking Companies Accused of Putting Minorities At Risk During Pandemic

In a complaint before the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Marketing Service filed on Wednesday, Tyson Foods, Inc; JBS USA, Inc.; Pilgrim’s Pride Corp.; and Keystone Foods, LLC, were accused of racial discrimination during the COVID-19 pandemic. The complaint alleged they put minorities at an additional risk of exposure to COVID-19.

The meat processing companies allegedly have policies that “favor a processing capacity objective … over common-sense measures to protect workers’ health and safety.” The complaint stated the majority of workers are Black, Latino, and Asian and that these races are exposed to higher risks for the COVID-19 virus than the “white managers.” The complaint alleged the companies were violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“The Corporations have known for months that several common-sense measures alleviate the impact to workers,” the complaint said. “The Corporations’ policies continue to place Black, Latino, and Asian front line workers at risk of exposure to COVID-19. Food Chain Workers therefore allege and request the Office of Civil Rights to investigate the disparate impact and disparate treatment of meat processing workers since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The complaint cited that the companies have received over $150 million in federal contracts this year, while tens of thousands of workers have been infected with COVID-19 and over 100 workers have died. It claimed the companies’ policies show a pattern of racial discrimination and “cause a disparate impact on Black, Latino, and Asian workers.”

The complaint was filed by alliances representing food chain workers including Food Chain Workers Alliance, Rural Community Workers Alliance, HEAL Food Alliance, American Friends Service Committee – Iowa, Idaho Organization of Resource Councils, and Forward Latino. These companies request that the USDA stop providing financial aid to the companies and refer the complaint to the United States Department of Justice.

The alliances cited data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which shows protection measures implemented by meat processing companies, citing no instances where workers were spread out to allow them to maintain a distance of 6 feet. The CDC allegedly found based on 21 states which reported data about ethnicity that “Hispanic and Asian workers might be disproportionately affected by COVID-19 in this workplace setting.”

The complaint claimed that, since it is administrative, the plaintiffs do not need to prove that there is not a justification for the policies or that there are options that are less discriminatory, but claim that there are options available to the corporations which would not be discriminatory towards minority races.