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We’re Feeding America, but We’re Sacrificing Ourselves

Tyson Foods continues to run its processing lines at a breakneck speed, making it impossible for workers to social distance

I work at a Tyson Foods processing plant. I help process the chicken for packaging. I cut the necks off the chickens. I pull the fat from the chicken. Pulling the fat, you pull a leg up on a chicken and pull it out like this. I do it like karate style. [LAUGHS] It’s very fast paced. It’s very, very intense. Line speeds are designed to run 140 birds a minute. Everyone is standing not even arm’s-length apart. [CLUCKING] There’s absolutely no way that we can social distance within these plants. Meat processing plants around the country have become Covid-19 hot spots. More than 10,000 workers in poultry and meat plants have contracted the virus. At least 30 have died. We now have masks and temperature checks. Tyson even put up plastic barriers between workers. But these measures can only do so much for when we’re cramped together on these lines. The reason our plants continue to be super spreaders is because Tyson forces us to process so much chicken so very quickly. The rate that they have to get these orders processed, it is physically impossible to social distance. If you slow down the lines, less workers will be needed. And by doing so, we can be able to social distance from each other and be more safe. We may be feeding America, but we’re sacrificing our own selves. I’ve been with Tyson for almost a year and a half. I am very proud to work for for the biggest company that’s producing chicken for this country. I’ve always been a dedicated worker to Tyson Foods. I took great, great pride in my job. They said either you come into work, or you will be terminated. But right now, I don’t feel like it’s safe enough. Back in March, my mother was diagnosed with pulmonary sarcoidosis. I couldn’t carry that weight on my shoulders if I were to bring that virus home not knowing I had it and gave it to her. From my hypertension, from having a blood disorder puts me in a little higher risk. But I still go in every day to sacrifice myself to make sure people in America are taken care of. Chicken is the most popular meat in this country. And Tyson is the largest poultry producer. Here’s how this works. The government regulates how fast these factories can run. So companies like Tyson lobby for faster and faster line speeds. The Trump administration relaxed regulations. They are allowing companies to speed up the production lines for chicken. Even with these outbreaks at Tyson plants, John Tyson, the company chairman, took out a full-page newspaper ad pushing for these plants to stay open. And President Trump listened. We’re working with Tyson, which is one of the big companies in that world. The president will mandate that meat processing facilities remain open. My family supports the Trump administration. However, Tyson and the president are prioritizing keeping the supermarket stocked instead of keeping workers like me safe.” Tyson, slow down your production line so we can social distance within these factories. How can we feed America if we’re all getting sick?

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Tyson Foods continues to run its processing lines at a breakneck speed, making it impossible for workers to social distance

You’re a worker at a Tyson Foods poultry plant and still punching in even though the coronavirus continues to run rampant through meat-processing plants across the country. You’re proud that your job helps keep supermarkets stocked. Your family supports Donald Trump. But the president’s executive order to keep meat plants open — issued after the Tyson Foods chairman, John Tyson, publicly warned of supply shortages — worries you. You think company leadership pushed for plants to stay open and to run at top speed instead of doing more to keep workers safe. This is the reality for Jerald Brooks, a Tyson poultry processing plant worker in Glen Allen, Va. He is not alone.

Meat plant workers rarely speak out for fear of reprisal. But in the video above, Jerald and Lakesha Bailey, a former worker at a Tyson plant, urge the company to slow down the processing lines. Chicken carcasses zoom along the lines at breakneck speeds, and workers are often packed shoulder to shoulder to keep up — making it impossible to social distance.

Tyson Foods claims one of its core values is “Workplace Safety,” yet 570 workers tested positive for the coronavirus in a single poultry plant in Wilkes, N.C. And at Tyson plants around the country, over 7,000 employees have tested positive for the virus. Workers continue to die from Covid-19. Despite this, the company recently reverted to its pre-coronavirus absentee policy; workers who fear getting infected will now be penalized for staying home.

Workers like Jerald and Lakesha want to continue to feed America. But they don’t want to have to sacrifice their safety or that of their families to do so.

Jerald Brooks is a general laborer at a Tyson Foods poultry processing plant in Glen Allen, Va.

Lakesha Bailey is a former employee at a Tyson Foods plant in Accomack County, Va.