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Position Statement: Racist Rhetoric About Workers Must Stop; Emergency Protections Must Increase

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A meat processing plant worker

Migrant Clinicians Network is gravely concerned about the implications and repercussions of recent comments about the cultures and personal lives of essential workers in meatpacking plants. The comments, by meatpacking business leaders, and reportedly and most recently reflected by comments by high-ranking administration officials, were made to explain outbreaks of COVID-19 among meatpacking plants, claiming that lifestyle and home exposures were to blame, rather than workplace exposures. These statements insinuate that workers are dirty or irresponsible at home, a dangerous resurfacing of a racist and classist trope in order to disavow responsibility to provide workplace safety during this pandemic. At a time when essential workers are frequently reporting poor or uneven implementation of necessary protections against the virus at work, such statements point to a gross disregard of the critical need for emergency worker protections to effectively combat COVID-19 hotspots at meatpacking plants, and consequently further endanger our workers by distracting from the urgency of implementing new protocols to ensure that workers stay healthy.

“These workers are people who need our help, not our blame, for working in difficult conditions to produce our food while risking their health for us,” says MCN’s Chief Medical officer, Laszlo Madaras, MD, MPH. “The inability to social distance at work is more likely the source of the COVID-19 spread, but it seems easier to blame the victim rather than take responsibility for better work conditions by our leaders.”

Amy Liebman, MPA, MCN’s Director of Environmental and Occupational Health, added, “Blaming the 6,500 COVID-19 positive meat packers deemed as essential workers is a deadly policy approach that puts all of us at risk -- workers, nurses, doctors, and our communities.  The racist implications of such statements are not lost on us.  Of the COVID-19 positive meatpackers, 44 percent are Latino and 25 percent are Black.” 

Migrant Clinicians Network calls on our workplace leaders, government officials, and health care providers to work together to prioritize the safety of essential workers:

  • Testing and contact tracing must be priorities for essential workers.

  • Employers of essential workers including those processing meat, and those growing and/or harvesting food, must immediately implement safeguards against COVID-19, including the provision of protective equipment, paid sick leave, and the enforcement of physical distancing. Measures must also be taken in farmworker housing and any provided transportation. Read MCN’s FAQ on Farmworkers and COVID-19 for more.

  • States need to enact emergency rules to require basic sanitation, PPE provision, and distancing measures are carried out. Read about Oregon’s statewide rules here.

  • Health centers can strengthen or rebuild their Community Health Worker programs to provide extensive education and testing to newly arriving workers and to worker communities that may otherwise struggle to access testing and/or basic health care.

 

 

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