Tyson Foods and JBS USA along with their subdivisions took millions of dollars in federal contracts, all while enforcing a COVID-19 response that puts Black, Latino, and Asian workers at more risk than their white counterparts a complaint to the U.S. Department of Agriculture states.
Worker advocacy groups such as Food Chain Workers Alliance, HEAL Food Alliance, American Friends Service Committee Iowa, Idaho Organization of Resource Councils, and Forward Latino all filed the civil rights complaint on Wednesday to the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service. They demand that the companies, including the subdivisions of Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc., Keystone Foods LLC and Pilgrim's Pride Corp., be held to account for the discriminant rules they enforce all while they take $150 million from USDA programs the provide food assistance and child nutrition, as well as aid to farmers harmed by the global pandemic.
The companies met demand for meat by ignoring CDC guidelines that state workers should be six feet apart, according to the groups. This put the rank-and-file workforce, which mainly consisted of people of color, to an increased chance of infection, they stated. On the contrary, white managers faced a lessened chance of exposure, the complaint states.
"This is widespread, severe racial discrimination," Brent Newell, the head attorney for the workers, told the press. "It's the USDA's obligation to prevent racial discrimination and to ensure that its recipients do not receive federal dollars and engage in discrimination."
The claims state a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which doesn’t allow race, and national origin to be discriminated against by businesses receiving federal funding. Title VI requires federal agencies to create their own civil rights program to ensure the businesses receiving funding don’t discriminate. The complaint said the companies have sites across 19 states that discriminate.
A Tyson spokesperson stated that themselves and keystone are reviewing the complaint, saying "our top priority is the health and safety of all our team members, their families and the communities where our plants are located. We've transformed the way our plants operate to protect our team members, implementing measures such as symptom screening before every shift."
Tyson points to a June 26 statement from the League of United Latin American Citizens, a civil rights group, stating the progress it had seen for meat-industry workers. LULAC called for new legislation regarding federal funding to protect Latino workers. They didn’t respond for a request to comment.
JBS and Pilgrim's Pride states in an email that they "have maintained our operations and the jobs they create only when we believe our facilities to be safe," further saying they "followed, and often exceeded, CDC guidance." they added they "welcome any review of our practices and response to the pandemic, along with the many opportunities we provide our team members from every background imaginable."