"We have obligations to workers," said the former vice president of protecting workers in slaughterhouses and meat processing facilities amid the pandemic

By Benjamin VanHoose
May 20, 2020 11:27 AM
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Joe Biden is valuing working-class lives above food prices.

On Tuesday, the former vice president, 77, participated in a Yahoo News virtual town hall, joined by chef José Andrés to discuss issues of food insecurity and other topics related to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Speaking about potential meat shortages and increased prices on products in grocery stores across the country, Biden said ensuring employee safety at slaughterhouses and processing plants is the only way to proceed. He said even if more regulations reduce output, the workers' wellbeing should be considered first and foremost.

"Whether it’s cattle, whether it’s beef, whether it’s pigs, whether it’s chicken, they’re moving down that line faster and faster and faster to increase the profit rate," said Biden. "People are getting sicker; people are getting hurt. The very thing we should be doing now is making sure these people are protected, that they have space six-feet apart, that they have shields around them, slow the process up. Make sure they have the protective gear, make sure they are being taken care of."

He added: "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."

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"We don’t treat the workers well at all across the board," Biden said. "... We have obligations to workers; we have obligations to the community."

Last month, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that deemed meat-processing plants "critical" facilities that should stay open amid the pandemic. Trump, 73, used the Defense Production Act, he wrote, to ensure that plants will stay open — despite recent discussions that several companies, like Tyson Foods, might keep only 20 percent of their facilities in operation out of health concerns, CNN reported.

As part of the order, Trump called on Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to "take all appropriate action" to certify that the meat companies continue to operate under guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

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As the novel coronavirus continues to spread, several meatpacking plants have seen major outbreaks. Employees in these facilities often work side-by-side while cutting and packaging meat, though health officials say avoiding new infections means avoiding groups and practicing social distancing.

In April, the United Nations warned that without action, parts of the world were at risk of numerous famines “of biblical proportions” in the near future. David Beasley, director of the U.N. World Food Program, addressed the U.N. Security Council via video where he expressed concerns that the world was on “the brink of a hunger pandemic.”

“There is also a real danger that more people could potentially die from the economic impact of COVID-19 than from the virus itself,” he said.

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