South Dakota: Over 500 Meat Processing Workers Contract Coronavirus

By Nélida Tello

As of Wednesday, at least 518 workers from the Smithfield Food processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and another 126 people who had contact with them have tested positive for COVID-19, accounting for more than half the state’s confirmed cases. The Sioux Falls plant has been identified as the largest single site of infection in the US.

Smithfield Foods announced the closure of two additional plants in Missouri and Wisconsin this week after the indefinite closure of the Sioux Falls plant on Sunday, leaving over 4,000 people out of work.

The workers in Sioux Falls have been given 80 hours of paid leave during the indefinite plant closure, despite averaging 11-hour workdays to make ends meet and send money back home, as a majority of workers are immigrants and refugees.

Before its closure, employees and their supporters staged a drive by protest outside the plant, demanding the company provide essential workers with personal protective equipment (PPE).

The Sioux Falls plant accounts for five percent of the country’s pork production. The closure’s impact the on the food supply chain is directly tied to the company’s failure to provide employees with PPE, another demonstration of the short-sighted nature of capitalist production.

Now that multiple plants are closed indefinitely, the company is seeking to shift the burden onto workers. As thousands of Smithfield employees join tens of millions of other unemployed and furloughed workers due to the company’s negligence, the demand for work or full wages is only strengthened.

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