WASHINGTON –Worker advocacy groups recently filed an administrative complaint against major meat processors alleging racial discrimination against minority frontline meat plant employees. Tyson Foods, Tyson Fresh Meats, JBS USA, Keystone Foods and Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. were named in the complaint which was filed with Agricultural Marketing Service of the US Department of Agriculture.

Meat processors have been engaged in a “pattern and practice” of racial discrimination of meat processing workers by implementing polices that overwhelmingly expose frontline workers — the majority of whom are Black, Latino, and Asian — to the coronavirus, according to the document, which lists as complainants the Food Chain Workers Alliance, Rural Community Workers Alliance, HEAL Food Alliance, American Friends Service Committee – Iowa, Idaho Organization of Resource Councils, and Forward Latino.

Tyson Foods said the company is reviewing the filing and reiterated Tyson’s commitment to prioritizing worker health and safety and that of their families and plant communities.

“We’ve transformed the way our plants operate to protect our team members, implementing measures such as symptom screening before every shift,” the company said. 

The complaint states that minority frontline workers “…bear an adverse disparate impact from exposure to COVID-19 caused by Respondents’ Corporate Processing Policies that favor a processing capacity objective — the bottom line — over common-sense measures to protect workers’ health and safety. In addition, when compared to Respondents’ management, workers are overwhelmingly exposed to the virus while white managers are not exposed to the same risks as the Black, Latino, and Asian workers on the ‘front lines.’”

In response to the complaint, JBS spokesperson Cameron Bruett said the diverse workforce within JBS is the true strength of the company.

“We are a culture of many, including refugee, immigrant, native-born and asylee,” he said. “We are humbled to provide well-paying jobs to many first-generation Americans seeking to build a better future for themselves and their families.

“During this pandemic, we have maintained our operations and the jobs they create only when we believe our facilities to be safe,” he added. “We have embraced our responsibility to provide a safe working environment and will continue to do so. Our efforts have followed, and often exceeded, CDC guidance. We welcome any review of our practices and response to the pandemic, along with the many opportunities we provide our team members from every background imaginable.”

The meat processors policies reject social distancing among workers and slower processing speeds that would allow a minimum 6-feet of separation between workers, according to the complaint.

“In sum, meat processing plants are responsible for thousands of COVID-19 infections and deaths because they prioritize processing rate and profit over worker safety and public health,” the complainants allege.

The complaint also cites findings by the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which highlighted the disproportionate impact of the disease on racial and ethnic minorities who work in the meat processing industry. In a recent report, the CDC said that among animal slaughtering and processing workers from the 21 states included in its report whose race/ethnicity were known, approximately 39% were white, 30% were Hispanic, 25% were black, and 6% were Asian. But among 9,919 workers with COVID-19 with race/ethnicity reported, approximately 56% were Hispanic, 19% were black, 13% were white and 12% were Asian.

As an example, the complaint noted that white workers only account for a small percentage of the total workforce at Tyson Foods and JBS USA, however, the management is overwhelmingly white.

“Over 73% of Tyson’s salaried employees are white, and over 58% of JBS’s management is white,” the complaint said.

“Thus, the Corporations know their Policies disproportionately impact Black, Latino, and Asian workers in frontline positions because those workers have a greater risk of contracting COVID-19, and suffer more adverse health outcomes, than white workers. Moreover, the policies disproportionately impact Black, Latino, and Asian workers in frontline positions compared to the population in management.”

Tyson Foods said “The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) recently announced that it “has seen progress in working environments for the nation’s meatpacking workers amid COVID-19…”

The president of LULAC recently visited Northwest Arkansas to meet with our CEO and tour one of our plants, where he saw first-hand the protective measures we’ve implemented, from temperature checks and masks to workstation dividers and social distance monitors.” LULAC President Domingo Garcia acknowledged Tyson has “made significant strides.”