Ethnic minorities have been most severely affected by the corona virus in the United States, and Latino workers are now facing new difficulties as they and their communities are discriminated against after being infected with corona viruses in meat processing plants and camps.
According to the United Food and Commercial Workers, more than 10,000 meat packers, including many Latinos, have contracted coronavirus in the United States and dozens have died.
Latino supporters say workers are now experiencing racism because they fear they have contracted the virus at work.
Connected: “The virus does not discriminate, but the governments”: Latinos who are disproportionately affected by the corona virus
“We have received reports that some workers at a grocery factory were rejected and were not allowed because they were believed to have the corona virus because they worked at the local meat packaging plant,” said Domingo Garcia, national president of the League of the United States of America ( Lulac).
“We also heard in Marshalltown [Iowa] People were denied service because they believed they were positive for Covid-19 just because they were Latino, ”added Garcia.
Latino workers were particularly affected in some areas because they were dependent on meat processing plants or large warehouses that were kept open during the pandemic despite reports of poor health and safety standards and lack of protective equipment.
“Four out of five Latinos are considered essential workers,” said Garcia. “They’re in construction, in food processing, in grocery stores, they’re farm workers, so they don’t have the luxury of working from home, so they’re exposed to Covid-19 in a way that many American workers don’t .
Garcia said that some Latino workers don’t have health insurance. Garcia said Lulac was investigating “several cases” of Latino employees who “complain about working conditions and then be fired”.
Connected: US corona virus hotspots associated with meat processing companies
The outbreaks in meat plants were shocking.
In April, three workers died in an outbreak at the JBS meat processing plant in Colorado, while many of the more than 8,000 coronavirus cases in Iowa have been linked to plants such as Tyson Foods in Waterloo. Tyson Foods had to stop operating at the end of April after 180 coronavirus infections had been linked to the plant.
There was a similar story in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, which became one of the hardest hit areas at the start of the crisis. Health officials identified Cargill, a meat processing plant, as one of the sources of the virus.
“The Cargill facility is over 90% Latinx,” said Jamie Longazel, associate professor at John Jay College and author of Undocumented Fears: Immigration and the Policy of Division and Conquest in Hazleton, Pennsylvania.
With the Latino meat factory workers, some of whom are undocumented and often live from paycheck to paycheck, they couldn’t afford not to go to work – especially since large companies tend not to offer sick pay.
“They were demonized because the workers then passed it on to their family members, which affected the Latinx community more,” said Longazel.
Elsewhere in the US, anti-Latino sentiment has come from officials. In Wisconsin, the Supreme Court Justice, Patience Roggensack, was criticized in early May after seeming to downplay a coronavirus outbreak among workers in a meat packing facility in Brown County, where a large proportion of the workers are minorities and immigrants.
“[The surge in coronavirus cases] was due to the meat packaging – this is where Brown County got the torch, ”said Roggensack. “It wasn’t just ordinary people in Brown County.”
Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of the Wisconsin-based immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera, criticized Roggensack’s statements as “elitist” and “racist” and told the Guardian that Latinos had been subjected to “legalized discrimination” through their work.
“There was no question that they were discriminated against because they were disproportionately vulnerable to exposure and because they or their families or their community were affected by Covid-19,” said Neumann-Ortiz.
If there is a positive, said Neumann-Ortiz, the game could trigger greater efforts to change working conditions.
“It forces you to enforce organization in the workplace in a way that wasn’t there before because there is so much at stake,” said Neumann-Ortiz. In some cases, workers have refused to go to work due to unsafe conditions, which has forced companies to temporarily shut down facilities to thoroughly clean facilities or provide better PPE.
“There is a new fight at the front and it will be here for a while,” she said.