The work of killing and cutting up the animals we eat is often bloody, hard and dangerous, particularly in America’s meatpacking plants. At the turn of the twentieth century, these factories were more than sweatshops, they were blood shops. They operated with low wages, long hours, brutal treatment and sometimes deadly exploitation of mostly immigrant workers. They also had contempt for public health.
Upton Sinclair was a novelist and social crusader who wrote a book that exposed abuses in the meatpacking industry. Published in 1906, The Jungle tells the story of a Lithuanian immigrant named Jurgis Rudkus, who comes to America seeking the American dream but instead finds a system full of corruption and intolerable working conditions. It became a bestseller, aroused public outrage and led to the passage of such laws as the Pure Food and Drug Act.
The same types of abuses still happen to workers in modern meatpacking plants. A recent report by Human Rights Watch said that meatpacking companies delay, deny or refuse to pay compensation for workplace injuries, and workers who file claims face retaliation. It also found that in the first four months of this pandemic, Osha — the labor department agency charged with protecting workers — received a huge spike in complaints from meatpacking plant workers.
Osha investigated 30 of these cases and found that employers were forcing people who showed Covid symptoms to continue coming into work; failing to follow social distancing guidelines; and not providing proper protective equipment. Osha also found that companies were retaliating against union supporters and firing workers.