Biden Just Decided Not to Protect Meatpacking Workers from COVID

R&I – TXPAT ***

On the campaign trail last year, Joe Biden vowed that as president, he would stand up for workers being ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic. One set of laborers in particular caught his attention: those who toil in the large slaughterhouses that process the vast majority of the US meat supply, working shoulder to shoulder to cut animal carcassess into steaks, wings, and chops. As COVID-19 swept through plants, hundreds of workers died, tens of thousands tested positive, and slaughterhouses emerged as primary vectors for spreading the virus into surrounding communities. All the while, the Trump administration steadfastly ignored the pleas for protective action from labor advocates and defended industry bosses.

Candidate Biden wasn’t having it. Discussing the unfolding COVID catastrophe in meatpacking plants at an event with activist chef José Andrés in May 2020, Biden declared that “absolutely, positively, no worker’s life is worth me getting a cheaper hamburger. No worker’s life is worth that. That’s what the hell’s happened here.”

A little more than a year later, Biden’s ire appears to have cooled. On June 10, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a division of the US Department of Labor, released long-awaited new rules to protect vulnerable workers from the virus. In a move that stunned labor advocates, the rules, which include an obligation to ensure 6 feet of distance between workers as well as paid time off “to get vaccinated and to recover from any side effects,” only apply to the healthcare industry—leaving out other vulnerable workers.

“Today’s new COVID workplace safety standard from OSHA represents a broken promise to the millions of American workers in grocery stores and meatpacking plants who have gotten sick and died on the frontlines of this pandemic,” Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, wrote in an emailed statement. “Vaccinations are helping us take control of this pandemic, but the danger for these essential workers is far from over. Thousands of frontline food workers are still at risk of infection.”

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