The select committee in the US House of Representatives has concluded that "the country’s largest meatpackers successfully lobbied the Trump administration in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic to keep processing plants open despite knowing the health risks to their workers," essentially "prioritizing production over the health of their workers."
The New York Times story says that the report "describes the extent of the meat industry’s influence on the administration’s response to the pandemic: Companies stoked 'baseless' fears of an imminent meat shortage in an effort to prevent plant closures. The legal department of Tyson Foods drafted the initial version of an executive order President Donald J. Trump issued in April 2020 declaring processing plants as 'critical infrastructure.' And industry concerns prompted the government to adjust its federal recommendations on worker safety at a meatpacking plant."
The Washington Post covers it this way:
"The report alleges the nation’s largest meatpackers and industry trade groups repeatedly misled the public when they warned that a slowdown in their operations posed an imminent threat to the nation’s meat supplies. But 'these fears were baseless,' investigators wrote.
"The report from the bipartisan House select subcommittee is based on review of 151,000 pages of documents, more than a dozen survey calls with meatpacking workers union representatives, former Agriculture Department and Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials, and state and local health authorities. The subcommittee also held a staff briefing with OSHA and USDA.
"Internal industry documents showed that 'despite awareness of the high risks of coronavirus spread in their plants, meatpacking companies engaged in a concerted effort with Trump Administration political officials to insulate themselves from coronavirus-related oversight, to force workers to continue working in dangerous conditions, and to shield themselves from legal liability for any resulting worker illness or death,” the report states."
- KC's View:
I have several reactions to this.
First, I'm not sure that it is entirely fair to criticize meatpackers for pushing the government to label their plants to be critical infrastructure. If plants had to slow down production because of as reduction of workers because of pandemic concerns, it might've inflamed an American public that already was on edge because of changes being forced on them by Covid-19.
We are a culture that does not do well with shortages, because a) we're not used to them, and b) we can, in general, act like entitled babies. There is very little sense in some circles of the big picture and the broader influences that can affect prices and supply; rather, we seem to be really good at a) whining and b) assigning blame.
In my view, it would've been a more mature and nuanced reaction to the pandemic for the broader culture - as well as meatpackers and politicians - to accept the notion that for a time, in order to assure worker safety, we might have to accept shortages as being an inevitable and temporary condition. But the reality is that nobody ever increased quarterly sales or got elected by being nuanced and mature.
My other reaction is that it always is distressing when business groups draft legislation, which happens no matter who happens to be in power at the moment. I have no problem with organizations having input and making recommendations, but there ought to be a line. There isn't one, but there ought to be.