In reaction to reports of Tyson Foods reinstating its punitive absentee policy for workers, Oxfam America’s Director of US Programs, Minor Sinclair said:
At a time when meat and poultry plants continue to be hotspots for COVID-19 across the country, the recent decision by Tyson Foods to roll back policies that were implemented to help prevent the spread of the virus is irresponsible and shows zero regard for workers’ wellbeing.
Tyson Foods’ decision to reinstate its problematic point-system penalizes workers for needing to be absent or tardy. This policy forces workers to make impossible (and sometimes, even deadly) choices between safety, caring for their loved ones and their livelihoods. While this policy was cruel and counter-productive before the pandemic, today it is an unacceptable affront to human dignity.
The punitive point system is not in touch with the reality of workers’ lives at any time, but especially in the face of a terribly contagious and lethal pandemic. Workers need to take occasional time off for reasons beyond testing positive for COVID-19 or observing a mandated quarantine. Many thousands of workers are struggling to pay the bills while maintaining their households-- caring for themselves or sick family members, addressing childcare needs, keeping families safe. They should not have to face the threat of losing their jobs or their income to meet these demands.
While Tyson workers who test positive for COVID-19 qualify for short-term disability, this allowance has never provided full-time sick pay. Workers already on the financial edge cannot afford to stay home, even when ill. Oxfam and fellow advocates have continued to call on Tyson and the nation’s other leading companies to offer fully paid sick leave once and for all.
Oxfam is deeply concerned that this regressive move may precede the rolling back of other already insufficient protections for vulnerable employees during a pandemic that is far from over. As this crisis has revealed, woefully inadequate health and safety conditions in poultry processing plants led to thousands of workers falling ill and dozens of plants closing.
Allowing the poultry industry to backtrack on temporary and inadequate improvements made during the pandemic --instead of making them permanent and expanding them-- would demonstrate utter disregard for workers’ safety and continue to put our nation’s food supply at risk.