Mitch McConnell Looks Out For Little Guy: Meatpacking Plants That Give Workers The Rona
Video Screenshot, CBS Denver April 10 (now over 100 infections, five deaths at that plant)

We've got another stimmy bill coming up, and both sides are very clear that they are exactly the same. Democrats will be "seeking more wage protections for workers," while Republicans are "aiming to insulate companies from employee lawsuits." See how very the same they are?

Like the White House, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is insisting that any new stimulus bill must absolutely protect America's corporate citizens from being held responsible for spreading the deadly virus, because how can we possibly get the economy roaring again if people who've been infected at work have the right to sue their employers for practices that spread a deadly virus? American prosperity is built on the bones of workers, and that's just the way it is.

"The whole country will be afraid to go back to work … if businesses are afraid they're going to be sued constantly," McConnell said, adding that this type of liability protection "is the one thing that will be a part of any new bill."

Mind you, the rush to shield companies from liability has a hell of a lot less to do with some hypothetical lawsuit against the local donut shop for that single week in March before it put up a plexiglass shield in front of the cash register. If you want to understand why the GOP is worried about businesses being "unfairly" sued for spreading the virus, start with this Washington Post exposé of the virus-friendly conditions at three of the nation's biggest meat processing companies: Tyson Foods, JBS USA, and Smithfield Foods, all of which have had to shut down plants where there were COVID-19 outbreaks. The three agribusiness giants have had to shut down 15 plants so far, and it's pretty clear their operations failed to protect workers. Protective gear wasn't distributed, social distancing was iffy or nonexistent, and in some cases, workers said they were told to keep working when they were sick. The numbers are Not Good:

Coronavirus outbreaks in more than 30 plants run by these companies and others have sickened at least 3,300 workers and killed at least 17, according to a review of news reports, county health reports and interviews with health officials and worker advocates.

It's a nice little reprise of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle for the 21st century, only without the human fingers ending up in your food (probably). But the unsafe conditions for plant workers sure sound familiar!

The JBS beef processing plant in Greeley, Colo., slaughters 5,400 head of cattle a day. Sergio Rodriguez had worked there for 40 years when, he said, he began feeling ill on March 20. As he performed his duties that Friday — handing out smocks and gloves to hundreds of co-workers — he said his head throbbed and his muscles ached. The 58-year-old says he pushed through to his lunch break that day, then asked a supervisor if he could go home because he was sick.

He was needed, he said he was told, so he stuck it out. That night, he went to urgent care and was told to isolate himself at home, according to a patient summary from UCHealth Urgent Care. His temperature was 104, and within days, he was hospitalized.

Mr. Rodriguez was among the first of more than 100 workers at the Greeley plant who've tested positive for COVID-19 since the outbreak started in late March. Five workers have died. You also have to wonder how many of the plant's 3,200 employees have actually been tested. WHO KNOWS?

JBS issued a statement saying nuh-uh, they'd never make anyone work while sick, what are you nuts? "No one is forced to come to work, and no one is punished for being absent for health reasons."

But health authorities in Weld County, Colorado, where the plant is located, sent a letter on April 4 in which they

chastised the company for having a "work while sick" culture and said the county's analysis showed that 64 percent of workers who were covid-19 positive had "worked while symptomatic[.]"

By April 10, Weld County demanded the plant be closed; after shutting down for nine days, it reopened last Friday.

There's a LOT MORE in the WaPo story about conditions at JBS and other plants around the country; it's not happy reading. See also these excerpts from last night's "Rachel Maddow Show." In the first, Maddow notes the Department of Labor's safety guidelines for meatpacking plants are voluntary, not mandatory, because what is Occupational Health or Safety, anyway? In the second, she speaks with Kim Cordova, president of the union at the Greeley plant, United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 7, about the utter clusterfuck of not-testing and unsafe conditions.

Meat Plants Become COVID-19 Hotspots After Poor Handling Of Outbreaks | Rachel Maddow |

Workers Voice Concerns As Meat Plant Re-Opens Amid Coronavirus Outbreak | Rachel Maddow |

The idea of shielding businesses from liability has also become a top priority for the White House, because as Donald Trump's top economic adviser Larry Kudlow explained last week, this is an infectious disease, and therefore there's absolutely no way anyone could ever say whether people got sick in a workplace with no infection control, or they all happened to get sick at home, every one of them, and then showed up to work. It would be really unfair to blame the employer, now wouldn't it? Besides, they're only workers and we can always get more of those.

So there's a fine thing to keep in mind. Donald Trump and his party don't seem very intent on making sure workers are protected from COVID-19, and we're at least a year away from a vaccine. But they're doing all they can to make sure the companies that are spreading the disease have legal immunity, whatever happens with the virus.

[WaPo / Denver Post / WaPo]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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