• Jon B. Comstock

Why no recognition of chicken plant heroes?

MONDAY MATTERS - JUNE 15 |

ACTION ITEM: Northwest Arkansas’ own version of systemic racism fails to recognize or protect Latinx and Marshallese families. Tell Governor Hutchinson not to sign a law being rushed through the Legislature that would make it impossible for employees to hold their employer responsible for reckless disregard for their health and safety AND to substitute in its place affirmative aggressive steps to protect the people of color – truly heroes - who are sacrificing themselves and their families so America’s protein sources remain plentiful. Shut the plants down for a few days for a deep health-screening and bring back on-line slowly (eating vegetables won’t kill us). Insulate our heroes from adverse financial impact for any work that is missed due to COVID and support the decisions not to work in circumstances that cause them great anxiety – such as having an elderly infirm relative in their home. Insist on the development of a uniform standard of care that all of the poultry plants should meet. Stop accepting “let them police themselves” approach. We can do much more for these heroes!

Despite being a part of a “critical” industry, have you noticed until the last few days there has been little reference by our Governor or area newspaper to those working to continue our poultry production – and certainly no reference to them as heroes?

As a simple example, consider that you and I are well aware that the vast majority of those working in Northwest Arkansas’ poultry plants are Latinx or Marshallese; that though this job is one of the most distasteful of all jobs in the area, it has been designated as “essential” (due in part to the efforts of Tyson Foods and others to beat the drum that the protein food supply of our nation is at risk if their plants are not kept opened); that essential workers commonly include references to those in the medical fields – doctors and nurses – who are majority white and are often categorized by us and the media as “heroes”. Tell me the last time you heard or read a media reference to Northwest Arkansas’ Latinx and Marshallese neighbors as heroes?

And to get a sense of the stranglehold that this industry has even on our media outlets, why has the Governor not been called to account when he puts out data on specific nursing homes and prison units, but routinely uses only generic language when referencing poultry plants? The logic for sharing the other data – that the surrounding communities are entitled to know – applies equally to poultry operations.

Do we really think area employers need a Legislative Special Session to protect their pocketbook, when poultry plant workers can’t even get their attention?

No. Consider that 16 people in the area Marshallese community have died from COVID. Pacific Islanders represent 6% of those testing positive and 5% of those succumbing to the virus yet make up 0.4% of state’s population. Hispanics are 21% of cases and 7.7% of population. There is much more to be gleaned if you are willing to look. Why is Tyson only now telling us that as many as 4,600 Tyson employees WILL be tested in the future? Why this delay to date? What level of neglect must present itself before we (you and I) demand more from our State?

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