Playing Chicken

The pandemic is a magnifying mirror placed directly across from America’s inequalities, and some of the ugliest reflections we’ve seen come from a place we rarely look: Meat plants, where the government and big business are playing chicken with human lives. “The United States Department of Agriculture granted fifteen waivers to poultry plants, including a Mountaire facility in North Carolina, authorizing them to increase the number of birds per minute—or B.P.M.—that workers must process. The waivers enabled companies to accelerate the pace from a hundred and forty B.P.M. to a hundred and seventy-five … Even though the C.D.C. has emphasized that social distancing is necessary to maintain safety, faster production lines require more workers, who must then squeeze closer together … Debbie Berkowitz, a program director at the National Employment Law Project, a pro-labor group, who previously headed the health-and-safety division of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, told me that, thanks to the pandemic, ‘the Chamber of Commerce is getting everything they always wanted.’ An analysis of public records by her group found that, of the fifteen poultry plants granted waivers to increase line speeds in April, eight had covid-19 outbreaks at the time. ‘If you’re a worker in a plant bursting with covid-19, it’s a shitshow for you,’ Berkowitz said. ‘The industry is getting away with murdering people.'” The New Yorker’s excellent Jane Mayer on How Trump Is Helping Tycoons Exploit the Pandemic.

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