Trump has invoked the Defense Production Act, which dates back to the Korean war era, that allows the government to compel companies to take action for national security reasons, and raised concerns over food supply shortages. He also suggested that the executive order would help protect companies from any legal liability that could arise from remaining open while they deal with coronavirus outbreaks. Allegedly, the U.S. Department of Labour would consider requests to help defend companies that face legal action related to keeping their plants open, but only if these have adhered to federal coronavirus-related safety guidelines. Kim Cordova from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union(UFCW) said that “if Trump waives liability for any type of lawsuit, the companies have absolutely no incentive to make a safe workplace” and that meatpacking plants that stay open “must put the safety of workers first.”

Tyson Foods said it provided tours of two production plants located in Northwest Arkansas on April 24 to state and federal health officials to outline the safety measures and social distancing efforts in place at Tyson facilities. The company said it highlighted the social distancing measures put in place, including the designation of social distancing monitors (individual employees whose responsibility is to prompt compliance with recommended distancing), dividers between workstations on the plant floor and at breakroom tables, and tents for additional breakroom space outside.  

An estimated 3,300 meatpacking workers in the U.S. have been diagnosed with coronavirus and 20 have died. Over 20 meatpacking plants in the American Midwest have closed during the outbreak, including slaughterhouses owned by Smithfield Foods, Tyson Foods, Cargill and JBS USA.

Sources: The Financial Times/BBC