I don’t believe that Smithfield has provided enough protective equipment or tissues, or spaced out workers on the line, or extended our breaks so we have time to wash our hands. Instead, it has extended our shifts — up to 11 hours — on a faster line, which means we bump into each other more often as we work. We don’t even have time to cover our mouths if we sneeze, because the line is moving so fast.
On April 2, 70 workers at our 1,000-employee plant signed onto a letter from the Rural Community Workers Alliance, an advocacy group here that I’m a member of, asking Smithfield to allow us to quarantine at home with pay to keep ourselves and our families healthy, or to modify our workplace so we could work more safely.
The week after we sent the letter, Smithfield installed “plexiglass shields” between some workers in some parts of the plant, including where I work and in parts of the cafeteria. But the shields don’t hang low enough from the ceiling to cover everyone’s face. The plant also gave us a free lunch to announce a new initiative: a $500 “responsibility bonus” to anyone who manages not to miss a single shift from April 1 through May 1 — a cash incentive to come to work, which puts our lives at risk. We still don’t get paid sick leave, and the company’s “point system” for attendance means we can be disciplined, or even fired, if we have to call in sick nine times in a year.