Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds hopes that 70 percent of the state’s meat packers will receive coronavirus vaccines by April 2021. But for many families, that effort is too little and too late.
Tyson, JBS, and other meat processors employ about 15,000 workers in Iowa. Kelly Garcia, the interim director of Iowa’s Public Health Department, is excited that officials will use the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, as opposed to the double-shot Pfizer/Moderna vaccine. “You’re in, you’re out, you’re done. You don’t have to come back again, which is logistically hard,” she said.
This effort comes on the heels of a major scandal from the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. Over 1,000 workers at the Tyson plant in Waterloo tested positive for the virus. Three people died. Additionally, according to a lawsuit. Tyson’s interpreters lied to Limited English Proficiency (LEP) workers about the risk and several managers started a betting pool concerning the number of deaths.
Tyson suspended the managers and ordered an investigation.
Issues at Meat Processing Plants
Problems at an Iowa plant might seem to have no relationship to similar safety issues in Georgia. Four companies control 80 percent of Georgia’s meat processing plants. Therefore, the safety issues in one part of the country usually affect local workers as well.
To feed (no pun intended) a growing demand, most meat processing plants feature assembly lines which operate at breakneck speed. Accidental trauma injuries are common. A hand or finger could easily be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and most of these machines are very unforgiving as well.
Assembly lines also create occupational diseases. Most workers do the same thing to the same piece of meat all day every day. Repetitive stress injuries are common. Furthermore, it’s almost impossible to take breaks at unscheduled times. It is very unhealthy to stand for long periods of time and fight the urge to go to the bathroom.
The conditions are even more dangerous during the coronavirus era. Social distancing is impossible at these plants. Masks alone provide protection, but they only go so far in an environment such as a meat processing plant.
Complicating matters even further, many meat processors build plants in semi-rural areas where there are few other employment opportunities. They also recruit legally vulnerable workers, such as those with immigration issues or criminal backgrounds. It’s very easy to intimidate these employees, mostly because they do not know their rights and they do not know how to assert those rights.
Injured Worker Claims
Injured workers have the right to file workers’ compensation claims. This right applies to trauma injuries and occupational diseases. Georgia is one of the few states with a broad anti-discrimination law in this area. It’s illegal to retaliate against workers who file claims. It’s also illegal to blackball workers who file claims or even ask about prior claims during the application process.
Workers’ compensation insurance offers no-fault benefits which replace lost wages and pay medical bills.
Typically, workers’ compensation pays two-thirds of the victim’s average weekly wages for the duration of any temporary disability. The Average Weekly Wage accounts for both regular cash compensation and irregular or non-cash compensation, like overtime or housing allowance. If the disability is permanent, lump-sum compensation is usually available, largely depending on the extent and nature of the injury.
Workers’ compensation’s medical bill payment benefit usually applies to all reasonably necessary expenses with an authorized physician.
All injured workers have important legal rights. For a free consultation with an experienced Georgia workers’ compensation lawyer, contact the Gearhart Law Group. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these matters.