All deaths are painful, but none like preventable deaths. Unfortunately, many workers are on the front lines against the COVID-19 pandemic succumbing to the virus, because they lack the minimum protections necessary for their absolutely essential work, amongst unnecessary risks in the workplace.
In this case, I’m not referring to those exemplary anonymous heroes which are our healthcare workers, but the thousands of Hispanic workers working in meatpacking industry. To show a an example: only one JBS company plant in Greeley, Colorado, had to close after 43 workers, many of them Hispanics, tested positive for COVID-19.
But the closure of the packing plant was too late for Don Saúl Sánchez, 79, who worked more than 30 years for the company. He was hospitalized in late March with COVID-19 symptoms and died this month. His daughter, Beatriz Rangel, tried in vain to contact the company. To date the column was written, there is no answer.
The case of Don Saúl, who leaves six children and thirteen grandchildren, is an emblematic example of a doubly related reality: many productive sectors rely on the work of elderly employees and these companies are not doing enough to protect its employees, especially the most vulnerable.
The little-known reality is that many of the Hispanic meatpacking workers are over 60. At the BJS plant in Greeley, of about 4,500 workers a total of 363 are between 60 and 70 years old. Moreover, 58 employees are over 70. In fact, three employees have died there for the COVID-19, all over the age of 69.
Although company executives have pledged to equip workers with protective equipment when they tentatively reopen on April 24, including the purchase of 6.5 million masks from China that are coming, it is clear that federal guidelines are required for minimum conditions of protection to apply to essential workers from across the country.
The League of Latin American Citizens United (LULAC), the longest-running Latin organization in the United States, took up the matter and adds to the support of the legendary Dolores Huerta. They have already sent a letter to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and set aside a meeting with Vice President Mike Pence.
These essential workers much like agricultural workers and many more, need appropriate equipment, paid healthcare along with their salary, and included medical checkups. That’s the role of the federal government, and don’t waste time with irrational plans to reduce the wages of these long-needed heroes for the country.
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