Meatpacking Plants are COVID-19 Houses of Horror

This Halloween Houses of Horror are Open 24/7 to Feed Us

Houses of horror are an annual tradition that families gleefully associate with Halloween. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, most families will miss out on this experience. However, for those families that work to put food on our table real houses of horror are open 24/7 — and the consequences are deadly.

Meatpacking and food processing plants have become the new real-world houses of horror, with more than 800 outbreak sites, 70,000 infections, and hundreds of deaths. These places were already scary due to difficult working conditions and grizzly workplace injuries being common. COVID-19 has made a scary situation horrifying.

These facilities have all the classic icons of a house of horror — mangled limbs, zombies, corporate ghouls, plague, death, and vampires who drain people for all they can and move on to new victims. Tombstones surround these places, reading “RIP Human Dignity” and “Here Lies The Family Farm.”

The stories of people who enter these houses of horror are not the happy family-centered memories we typically associate with the Halloween season. They are stories of secret police, sexual assault, racism, corporate exploitation, depression, and more.

However, there is hope. A broad coalition of workers and allies are mobilizing for change. We must listen to the workers in these facilities. We must push for accountability, transparency, and worker protections.

Workers need:

  • Workplace protections — PPE, social distancing, daily testing, paid sick leave for all exposed workers, and elimination of the point system that unfairly fires workers for missing shifts.
  • Increased fines for labor violations — workers need real enforcement and teeth through increased fines that will discourage employers from exposing their employees to hazardous work conditions. Companies simply factor these exceptionally low fines as operating costs, knowing that creating safe working conditions will cost them more money than exposing them to dangerous conditions.
  • Rollback line speed waivers — these waivers make social distancing virtually impossible, and create hazardous working conditions that will continue after we have contained COVID-19.
  • Stronger, worker-driven enforcement — investigations should not take months or years, and retaliation against workers should not be tolerated. OSHA must consult with worker representatives and advocates in worksite investigations and enforcement operations.
  • Transparency — tracking and disclosures of COVID-19 cases are haphazard from state to state, often workplace to workplace. Workers do not have sufficient information to make an informed decision about the risks of appearing at work. This same lack of transparency is commonplace in the meat & poultry industry. Companies make cost-benefit analyses on worker safety. Where a company is prioritizing profit over human safety, the public should know.

Hunter Ogletree is the Co-Director at the Western North Carolina Worker’s Center (WNCWC). The WNCWC builds power among workers of color through organizing, education, and direct action, from an intersectional standpoint, to promote worker justice.