Story at a glance

  • A civil rights complaint alleges meat companies discriminated against workers of color.
  • Tysons, JBS and Smithfield Foods saw outbreaks of coronavirus cases among their meatpacking employees.

Multiple worker unions and advocacy organizations have just filed a civil rights complaint against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the wake of coronavirus outbreaks among meat processing workers — most of whom are people of color. 

According to The Associated Press (AP), the complaint alleges meat processing companies like Tyson and JBS subjected their workforces to racial discrimination amid the coronavirus pandemic. Filed Wednesday, it hinges on the allegation that Tyson and JBS violated a section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, protecting individuals from discrimination from entities receiving federal financial aid.

Both companies have each reportedly received millions of dollars in federal aid, with Tyson and JBS having been allocated $109 million and $45 million from the USDA, respectively. These funds make them obligated to follow federal regulations, including those within the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

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The complaint therefore asks that the USDA investigate the alleged discriminatory practices and to suspend or revoke federal funding from the companies if they do not adjust their policies. 


BREAKING NEWS ABOUT BLACK LIVES MATTER

Director Joe Henry of Forward Latino, a group who filed the complaint on behalf of the workers, said that when both companies accepted federal financial aid, “they knew at that point that they would be held accountable to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but they continued to violate that act.”

Other groups on the complaint include Food Chain Workers Alliance, HEAL Food Alliance, American Friends Service Committee of Iowa and the Idaho Organization of Resource Councils, per AP reporting. 

The complaint follows the release of a report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that documented 87 percent of coronavirus cases associated in meatpacking facilities were among minority workers, even though they compose only 61 percent of the labor population. Of that majority, 56 percent were Hispanic and 19 percent were Black. The complaint follows this data in saying that the operative procedures have disproportionate adverse effects on minority workers. 

Tyson responded in an email, with spokesperson Worth Sparkman writing that the company is reviewing the complaint and said the company has undergone changes to protect the health of its employees.

“We’ve transformed the way our plants operate to protect our team members, implementing measures such as symptom screening before every shift,” he is quoted as saying.

AP notes that USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue will decide on how to handle the complaint. 


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Published on Jul 09, 2020