By Joey Aguirre, courtesy of Iowa Starting Line
As the old adage goes, “Actions speak louder than words.”
Many members of the Perry community would settle for a little of both from its local Tyson meatpacking plant.
With meatpacking plants across the country and in Iowa closing or scaling back their workforce due to employees testing positive for COVID-19, an executive order from President Donald Trump is mandating that meatpacking plants supplying beef, chicken, eggs and pork stay open amid the coronavirus pandemic. These companies are classified as “critical infrastructure” under the executive order.
But it’s the conditions inside the plant that are concerning workers and family members.
Advocating for the Perry community is Jorge Soto, a 2015 graduate of Perry High School and a current Master of Public Policy Candidate at the University of Chicago. He’s the organizer of the Call to Action: Protect Tyson Workers Facebook group that is raising awareness for the working conditions and environments that Tyson workers in his community are dealing with.
“The workers want to go back to work,” says Soto, 23. “They just don’t feel safe to work in these environments right now.”
Soto has been paying attention to what the workers at the Waterloo Tyson plant have been doing and hopes to have similar success in his hometown. On April 22, operations were indefinitely suspended at the Waterloo plant.
“Perry has always been on the back burner,” Soto says. “Perry is a strong community and we’re seeing what can happen when these communities like Marshalltown, South Tama, Waterloo and now Perry come together. These people have an incredible sense of pride in doing this work, they just want to be treated like humans and not commodities.”
Through his Facebook page, Soto is able to hear from Tyson workers and their family members. With a predominantly Hispanic speaking workforce, Soto is able to use his Facebook page to communicate with those workers.
He’s been told that Tyson is incentivizing workers to still show up despite health concerns by offering bonuses.
“I’m hearing that workers don’t feel like management cares about their health, that Tyson is actively incentivizing workers to not call in sick by providing bonuses,” Soto says. “But the bonus isn’t a $500 lump sum, it’s spread out for several months.”
Hospital workers have told Soto that for weeks, patients were showing up with symptoms of COVID-19 because they are still working in the same conditions without proper masks or gloves to use (contradicting Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds).
“The lack of transparency and a willingness to treat their workers as a commodity for profits has been the main complaint I’m hearing,” Soto says.
A recent letter in a local newspaper referred to the Tyson workers in Perry as “heroes,” but Soto says the actions don’t match those words.
“If these Tyson workers are deemed essential and heroes, can they have actual regulated provisions put in place to keep the contagion at a minimum?” Soto asks. “I realize it’s easier said than done, but these people have been putting their lives and their families lives on the line to keep sustaining their livelihoods and the profits for this corporation.”