Guest commentary: Meatpacking industry must to do better for sake of economy
The rate of COVID-19 contagion and death in the meatpacking industry has become an aberration, and it must be addressed swiftly and completely.
As state treasurers we are entrusted with the well-being of our communities. Many of us are also fiscal stewards of states in which meatpacking facilities are in operation and fiduciaries of funds invested in meatpacking companies. Our communities and our investments are at grave risk.
This new business environment in which we find ourselves is dominated by a health crisis that has severely impacted the bottom lines of companies both large and small. Our entire economy has suffered. It has become painfully obvious that the decisions each business makes to protect their customers’ and their workers’ health and safety are of primary importance. Poor decision making doesn’t just affect the bottom line of the company making them—we now know that those decisions affect us all.
The meatpacking industry has clearly emerged as one sector of the economy that must immediately adjust their operating and human resource management practices to adequately protect workers from contracting COVID-19. We realize that this industry is not the only one that must make changes. We also understand that what we ask is a significant undertaking, but this is a pivotal moment for our economy, and it is past time for the meatpacking industry to rise to this challenge.
Specifically, we ask that these measures be implemented across the industry:
- Temperature testing and symptom checking for all people every single time they enter each facility
- Providing free, ongoing, and on-demand testing to identify workers who are COVID-19 positive
- Requiring companies to immediately alert the state health department of all positive tests so that contact tracing occurs quickly enough to minimize contagion
- Rewarding, not punishing, employees who take appropriate steps to protect the health of the factory, such as staying home when sick and effectively self-quarantining
- Ensuring adequate supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for all employees—PPE that is replenished for each employee according to CDC guidelines
- Changing the configuration of each workspace and break space to provide for at least 6 feet of physical distance between employees
- Ensuring continuous monitoring by independent entities (health departments, unions, and/or media) to make sure that these measures are being effectively implemented throughout each facility
- Upgrading employees’ healthcare benefits to fully cover the costs that employees and their families incur related to COVID-19
- Removing constraints on whistleblowers such as utilizing ag-gag protections that get in the way of full transparency
Companies that continue to allow COVID-19 contagion to rage in their facilities create an unacceptable threat to the health of their employees, their employees’ families, and the communities in which these employees live and in which the company operates. We have already seen that a failure to act creates economic chaos and will force states and municipalities to take action to defend the health of our communities.
In addition, sickness and death caused from inaction will negatively impact relationships with suppliers and end customers, and will ultimately destroy shareholder value. We believe that this process has already begun. Immediate and appropriate action must be taken before further damage is done.
We are concerned that companies in this industry may feel a false sense of security as a result of the President’s use of the Defense Production Act. The Defense Production Act may provide some protection against liability, but it will not protect these companies from damage to their brands.
Finally, we suggest that the industry carefully consider the long-term reduction in demand for meat that could be caused by a failure of the meatpacking industry to act with urgency to assure the American people that its food supply is safe.
Disturbing images of meatpacking operations and human resource management practices are now featured in the media on a daily basis. The poor health outcomes of half-hearted implementation of the health and safety measures we have outlined become obvious within days and weeks. Repetition of these negative images will impact consumer behavior if action is not taken. Each COVID-19 death will trigger another round of negative media exposure and will permanently impact the demand for meat, and adversely affect our overall economy.
For all of these reasons we urge all meatpacking companies, including but not limited to Cargill Meat Solutions Corp, JBS S.A., National Beef Packing Company LLC, Tyson Foods, and Smithfield Foods (owned by the WH Group) to take immediate action to reduce and ultimately eliminate the COVID-19 contagion in their facilities. We are aware that some companies in the meatpacking industry, such as Mountain States Rosen, have taken and continue to take appropriate steps to contain and reduce COVID-19 contagion. We applaud them for those actions. However, this health and economic crisis requires each company in this industry to respond effectively.
This statement is the shared view of the following authors: Colorado Treasurer Dave Young, Iowa Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald, Maine Treasurer Henry Beck, Massachusetts Treasurer Deb Goldberg, Nevada Treasurer Zach Conine, Oregon Treasurer Tobias Read, and Rhode Island Treasurer Seth Magaziner.
Source: Read Full Article