In April of 2020, then-President Donald Trump issued an executive order to keep meatpacking plants open.
This was despite mounting evidence that the close contact and living conditions of meatpacking plant workers were creating untenable situations during a pandemic. Meatpacking plants became massive hubs of COVID-19 spread, often bleeding out into the smaller cities and towns in which they’re located. The actions of the few consolidated corporations that run most of these plants—including Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods and JBS—came under fire. Now, reports Reuters, the Congressional committee on COVID-19 is investigating those actions.
According to Bloomberg, the chairman of that committee, Congressman James Clyburn, sent a letter out to those corporations asking for a full accounting of their actions during the pandemic. That letter noted that tens of thousands of meatpacking plant workers contracted the virus and that hundreds have died.
The plants have not escaped public criticism of their behavior during the pandemic. According to various accusations and lawsuits, some plants were slow to implement safety, pressured employees to come to work and even placed bets on how many workers would test positive for COVID-19. Under the Trump administration, the federal, state and local safety regulations were both confusing and inadequate, according to labor groups; violations were met with extremely mild fines, if anything.
This new investigation from the House Coronavirus Committee aims to examine whether meatpacking plants took adequate measures to protect their workers and whether the response of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was firm enough to correct violations.
The meatpacking corporations responded, saying that they took many measures to lessen the impact and ensure the safety of workers.
Interestingly, while the new Biden administration has used its first few weeks to roll back a huge number of executive orders issued by the Trump administration, one that has yet to be addressed is the one Trump signed in April 2020, keeping meatpacking plants operational. Regardless of what an investigation finds, it also seems likely that keeping these plants open was simply never going to be safe, given the close contact of workers on the line, as well as in company housing and transportation.