Wilkesboro sits atop a low, broad ridge that runs along the south bank of the Yadkin River in the northwest part of North Carolina. Not only does it have, as per its tourism board, “a newly revitalized historic downtown, mind-blowing music talent, stunningly scenic mountain views, heart-pounding outdoor adventures, and Southern small-town charm,” but it hosts MerleFest each year—one of the largest music festivals in the nation, named in memory of the late Merle Watson, son of the great Doc Watson.
In stark contrast, just five minutes down the road from the MerleFest site, sits a chicken processing plant where, last week, 570 of its more than 2,200 workers tested positive for the coronavirus. That’s a quarter of the labor force, though most, according to owner Tyson Foods, didn’t show any symptoms.
Who works at our nation’s poultry and meat processing plants? Mostly immigrants and refugees, people desperate for a paycheck despite a typical entry wage of $8.50/hour, few prospects for an increase in pay, scant training, and the highest rates of illness and injury of any industry in the nation. Expected to process an average of 2,000 birds an hour, line workers use scissors and saws in tight and slippery quarters, endure air temperatures of less than 50°F, and work on their feet for long periods without bathroom breaks.
Though Tyson Foods, one of the world’s largest chicken, beef, and pork processors, temporarily closed the Wilkesboro plant twice in May for deep cleaning and is “rolling out advanced testing capabilities and enhanced care options on-site to team members,” as well as increasing short-term disability coverage, these measures do not apply to the temporary contract workers who typically make up much of the industry’s work force. Unlike full-time plant employees, these workers, mostly Latinx immigrants, do not receive paid sick leave and can be fired after missing 10 days of work.Read Debby’s Full Article at Nonprofit Quarterly