Thursday, October 29, 2020

My refugee mother died after working in a meat packing plant


San Twin, Opinion contributor
Revealed 5:00 a.m. ET Oct. 1, 2020

My mom got here to the USA pursuing the American dream. She died of coronavirus having by no means met her new grandson and connected to a ventilator.

Meat packing firm JBS helped take away what our household treasured most: My mother. After which the federal government took extra: our perception that each life issues, regardless of how a lot cash you make.

The U.S. Division of Labor’s Occupational Security and Well being Administration (OSHA) cited JBS final month for failing to protect its employees in Greeley, Colorado, from being uncovered to COVID-19. The corporate’s negligence value one company worker and six staff on the plant their lives, together with my mother, Tin Aye. One other 290 staff have confirmed optimistic circumstances as of mid-September.

JBS denies it did something incorrect, however my mom, who labored for JBS for 12 years, was nearly actually uncovered to COVID-19 within the Greeley meat packing plant, the place she labored lengthy, onerous hours to maintain America’s grocery shops well-stocked, and an infinite provide of meat accessible for summer season grilling. It made me sick to listen to OSHA solely fined JBS $15,615, the utmost allowed. That’s lower than $3,000 per dying. My mother’s life is just value $2,230?

You have not heard my mom’s story

My mother sacrificed her entire life to present my brother and me a greater future. Tin Aye fled persecution in her native Burma (Myanmar), solely to land in a refugee camp in Thailand. My dad and mom lived there for 12 years, and it’s the place we had been born. They taught us that coming to the USA was step one on the street to the American dream. It certain appeared that approach once we moved to Colorado, and my mother began working at JBS. We had no thought what a nightmare it will change into.

When the pandemic began in early March, I used to be 9 months pregnant. My mother was a wholesome 60-year outdated working lady with no preexisting circumstances, and excited to fulfill her first grandchild. Then at some point at work, she began displaying signs of COVID-19. When she went to the on-site clinic at JBS, they instructed her it was only a widespread chilly, or a light flu, and despatched her proper again on the ground. However because the weeks went on, she by no means obtained higher. Wouldn’t a typical chilly have handed by now?

At one level she requested her supervisor if she may take a break and go to the toilet. He told her no. And my proud, stunning, onerous working mom urinated on herself. Soaked in urine, she put her head down and saved working. And all of the whereas, the virus was wreaking havoc on her physique.

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You wouldn’t have heard this story. In any case, she was only a refugee-turned-meatpacker. You had been extra prone to hear a JBS executive claim that “since February, we’ve got invested thousands and thousands of {dollars} to implement lots of of security interventions, usually exceeding steerage.” It sounds so significantly better than a sick lady peeing on herself whereas being instructed, don’t fear, you’re superb.

Employees deserted, left unprotected

The Greeley plant’s first optimistic COVID-19 case was confirmed on March 26. Employees had been made conscious in a fairly informal announcement, delivered simply earlier than the road began. That they had no time to ask questions, not to mention depart. The message was clear: Keep working.

They trusted the corporate to do its finest to guard them, because the virus was silently spreading all through the plant. My mother’s union leaders despatched letter after letter to JBS, pleading with them to present the meatpackers protective gear. The corporate did not even implement mandatory social distancing.

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When the state of Colorado shut down on the finish of March, solely important staff had been licensed to maintain going to work. People may panic if there have been all of a sudden no meat on the cabinets. And but, JBS nonetheless didn’t outfit staff with personal protective equipment; didn’t clearly talk that staff with COVID-19 signs ought to keep house; and didn’t unfold everybody out at a safe distance. What occurred subsequent wasn’t stunning: hundreds of JBS staff and their dependents began flooding the emergency rooms and clinics in Greeley. They had been sick with a lethal virus. My mother was sick with a lethal virus.

And JBS’ response? The corporate provided staff a bonus based on attendance and championed a “work while sick” tradition, because the county’s Division of Public Well being and Setting described it on April 4. The county’s investigation even discovered that 64% of the employees who examined optimistic had “worked while symptomatic and due to this fact had been contagious to others.”

It obtained so unhealthy, state authorities had been compelled to quickly shut the plant down.  

Lives for the underside line

I went into labor on the finish of March. As a precaution, the nurses examined me for COVID-19 and I got here again optimistic. Figuring out my mother’s signs, I instantly gave her a name earlier than I went in for an emergency C-section. The day after my son, Felix, was born, my mother was admitted to the hospital and nearly instantly placed on a ventilator. She would by no means come off it. My mother misplaced her battle with COVID-19 on Might 17. She by no means obtained to fulfill her grandson.

I don’t take pleasure in telling our story. It hurts to recollect. However essentially the most painful factor goes over all of the what ifs? If JBS had closed earlier. Or cleaned the plant extra completely. Or gave the meatpackers personal protective equipment instantly. Tin Aye, my mother, didn’t matter practically as a lot as the underside line.  

However I assumed she would matter to the federal authorities, to the company that’s supposed to verify staff are protected, after they can’t shield themselves. OSHA’s $15,615 superb makes it clear: Nobody cares. Not JBS. Not the Division of Labor. Not the U.S. authorities.

My mother was a meatpacker. It’s the type of job the place you come house soiled each night time, lifeless drained. It’ll by no means make you wealthy, or carry you glory. Nevertheless it’s the type of job America was constructed on, the onerous work of on a regular basis individuals. My little brother is a Marine, deployed abroad. He’s prepared to danger his life for his nation. My mother by no means ought to have been compelled to danger hers, particularly for a corporation that doesn’t care about its individuals.

San Twin is a grocery employee dwelling in Englewood, Colorado.

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