U.S. Meat Plants Are Deadly as Ever, With No Incentive to Change

Throughout the industry this spring, bonuses of steak and cash were instrumental in keeping workers on the job as the coronavirus rampaged through U.S. meatpacking plants. The payouts forced people on the lowest rung of the economic ladder to assess their pocketbooks against the health of their families and themselves. Yet when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told JBS and other meatpackers to stop offering incentives based on attendance, lest employees come to work sick, the companies didn’t listen. Why should they? The CDC has no legal authority over the industry, so even in the grip of the pandemic, adherence to its directives was purely voluntary. “CDC was requested to do initial inspections and offer recommendations,” wrote Jason McDonald, a CDC spokesman, in an emailed response to questions. Any follow-up inspections would have to be done by other agencies, he wrote. Asked about the CDC’s report, JBS said bonus eligibility was not tied to sick days. “Throughout this pandemic, we have prioritized team member health and safety above everything else,” a spokesperson wrote in an emailed response.

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