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Georgia politicians, activists demand action for poultry workers

By Tom Burke

Georgia politicians, activists demand action for poultry workers

Gainesville, GA – COVID-19 virus is spreading quickly among poultry workers and their families in Georgia. In Hall County, northeast of Atlanta, there is a hotspot with over 2000 cases and 29 deaths as of May 12. With roughly 16,500 workers employed by 14 chicken plants across Georgia, and most immigrant families living with two or three generations in one house, the situation is code red. There needs to be an emergency response from the government and the corporations.

Chicken processing is dirty, demanding and dangerous work done mainly by immigrants from Mexico, many of whom are women. The big corporations, Pilgrim’s Pride, Fieldale, Wayne Farms, Perdue, Koch Foods, and Gold Creek are making the profits, all the while facilitating the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Workers are shoved into cramped workspaces, side by side rubbing elbows, breathing heavily, touching the same birds, and sharing equipment and restrooms. Much like in the meatpacking industry, offering masks, staggering breaks and implementing barriers is not stopping the spread of the deadly disease.

On May 12, a press conference was held outside the offices of the Fieldale Farms Corporation in Gainesville to introduce the “Essential Workforce Protection Act” into the Georgia House of Representatives. The politicians and community activists are responding to Tyson Foods Chairman John Tyson warning that the national food supply chain is “breaking.”

Georgia 9th Congressional District candidate Devin Pandy, Representative El-Mahdi Holly, Stockbridge, and Georgia 7th Congressional District candidate Representative Brenda Lopez Romero came together with community activists in support of the workers.

Lopez Romero said, “The pandemic has shown us that the real essential workers are stockers, medical professionals, janitors, factory workers and meat and poultry workers – many of whom work here in Hall County. She continued, “Yet these essential workers have been left to be the most vulnerable to the effects of this public health crisis.”

Community activist Arturo Ademe read out demands to help the workers including hazard pay, increased hourly pay, full pay sick leave and onsite testing for COVID-19. The big food corporations can meet these demands immediately. Here is a list of their net worth: Fieldale $1 billion, Wayne Farms $1.5 billion, Koch foods $2.3 billion, Perdue Farms $7.3 billion and Pilgrims $10.7 billion.

“The poultry industry in Hall County has always been a difficult and exploitive work environment. The working conditions are foul, the pay is meager and the hours are plenty. The working conditions have only gotten worse during this pandemic,” Adame said.

Adame continued, “I decided it was no longer acceptable to stand on the sidelines and watch the death toll in Hall County rise any further. Knowing the racial and immigrant demographics of the working class of this county, I felt it was necessary for a member of the community to speak out on their behalf. The poultry corporations must be held accountable for their refusal for fair and equitable treatment for all their employees.”

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