President Trump on Tuesday night used the Defense Production Act to order meat processing facilities stay open amid the coronavirus pandemic.
More than a dozen have shut down in recent weeks due to employee illness, including two of the country's largest plants, with some reporting that hundreds of workers have been infected with COVID-19. Several closed their doors after being pressured by local health officials and city governments. So far, there has been a 25 percent reduction in pork slaughter capacity and a 10 percent reduction in beef slaughter capacity, The New York Times reports.
Trump's executive order classifies meat plants as "critical infrastructure," and says the closures "threaten the continued functioning of the national meat and poultry supply chain" during the pandemic. Trump signed the order after John Tyson, chairman of the board of Tyson Foods, placed a newspaper ad over the weekend stating that "the food supply chain is breaking."
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Assembly lines are tight spaces, with employees often working right next to each other. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union says at least 20 meat plant employees have died of the coronavirus, and its leaders are calling on companies to provide daily health testing, personal protective gear, and paid sick leave for employees.
"While we share the concern over the food supply, today's executive order to force meatpacking plants to stay open must put the safety of our country's meatpacking workers first," Marc Perrone, the union's president, told the Times. "Simply put, we cannot have a secure food supply without the safety of these workers."
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