Here's What Is Happening at America's Meat Plants

Unions cry foul after Trump orders plants to stay open
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 29, 2020 2:44 PM CDT
Some Meat Products Are Already Scarce
A shopper surveys the selection of packaged meat in a grocery early Monday, April 27, 2020, in southeast Denver.   (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

President Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday to keep meat processing plants open as "critical infrastructure"—but with coronavirus outbreaks sickening workers and closing plants, some meat products are already in short supply. Poultry plants say they are doing less de-boning as a way to function with fewer workers; some food retailers have started substituting bone-in legs, thighs, and drumsticks for boneless chicken products as a result, Fortune reports. Consumers are also likely to see bigger packages of meat in stores as well as unfamiliar items like "end cuts" from the leg. More:

  • Trump's order. The order Trump signed Tuesday night invokes the Defense Production Act to keep the plants running, NPR reports. "It is important that processors of beef, pork, and poultry ... in the food supply chain continue operating and fulfilling orders to ensure a continued supply of protein for Americans," the order states. The order followed a warning that plant closures caused by the pandemic could reduce the meat supply by 80%.

  • Roadblock" lifted. Trump said he would remove what he called a "legal roadblock" from the supply chains. He was referring to potential lawsuits from workers exposed to the coronavirus. A Labor Department order provided additional liability protection for meat plants, the Guardian reports. The order will "solve any liability problems where they had certain liability problems and we’ll be in very good shape," Trump said.
  • Unions cry foul. After the order was issued, unions accused Trump of putting workers' health at risk. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union called for the government to introduce "clear and enforceable" safety standards to protect meat processing workers, the AP reports. "Simply put, we cannot have a secure food supply without the safety of these workers," said union chief Mark Perrone. The union says at least 20 meat processing workers have died from COVID-19 and thousands more have been infected.
  • Order overrides states. The Labor Department and Occupational Safety and Health Administration order stated that the federal government will override states that have ordered plants to close after COVID-19 outbreaks, the New York Times reports. "No part of the joint meat processing guidance should be construed to indicate that state and local authorities may direct a meat and poultry processing facility to close," the guidance states.
  • Safety measures. Administration officials say they are working with meat companies to provide protective equipment and step up testing for the virus. Union leaders say these steps should have been taken a lot sooner.
(More meat stories.)

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