ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — A Change.org petition has been started titled, “Temporarily close down the meat processing plants in Northwest Arkansas to protect workers.” More than 2,000 have signed it as of Friday afternoon, June 19. The goal is to have 2,500 signatures.
Sixteen companies were sent the petition, such as Tyson, Cargill, George’s, Butterball, OMP and Simmons to name a few.
The petition requests for the companies to temporarily close, with [employee] pay, the meat processing centers in Northwest Arkansas. Also, make it easier for employees to process paperwork through their respective Human Resources departments.
During a press briefing, Governor Asa Hutchinson said temporarily closing poultry plants would not be a solution because they have a positive case. “They are critical, they are essential industries, they’re part of our food supply. Nobody wants to go into a store and not have protein,” he said.
The health of the workers is important and that’s what they’re [poultry businesses] investing in. “Whether it’s plexiglass, distancing, PPE, testing, contact tracing … they’re doing all of that.”
He said, “you gotta’ remember, those workers go home, they go to the store … church gathering. So they might come back, be a-symptomatic, and they go to work.”
The governor said at one facility workers did not get sick at the facility, they got sick by the way they were transported to the facility.
There are about 250,000 poultry workers in the U.S. — most are minorities, immigrants, or refugees according to the petition.
As of Friday, June 19, at least 21 COVID-19 deaths were in the Marshallese community, according to the coroners in both Washington and Benton counties and a timeline kept by KNWA/FOX24.
Four Community Clinic COVID-19 testing sites in Northwest Arkansas had tested 767 Marshallese as of Thursday, June 18, and 31% were positive for the virus, according to the clinic’s Chief Executive Officer Judd Semingson.
Marshallese make up more than 3% of the NWA population. Their positivity rate for the disease is more than 30%, according to the petition.
The Arkansas Department of Health issued an occupational clusters report Friday. There are a total of 595 active cases of people who are employed by the poultry industry. As for ethnicity, Hispanics/Latino(a) represent 337 of the active cases — nearly 60%.
Tyson, George’s/OMP (Rogers, Benton, Springdale), Butterball, Pilgrims Pride, Wayne Farms have a combined total of 299 active cases. These are the top five of 18 poultry companies with COVID-19 cases, according to the ADH report.
On Facebook, Marshallese Albious Latior wrote, “a lot of poultry workers need help. They were quarantined and didn’t get paid, some still are quarantined. Now, rent and/or bills are due.”
Hark NWA is a resource that can connect people in need with a community liaison. From March 1, 2020, through the end of May, more than 950 families reached out, in addition to more than 5,600 referrals to area organizations.
Fayetteville and Springdale made up more than 50% of residents who sought assistance, 75% were women. More than 1,600 needed housing assistance.
COMMENTS FROM THE CHANGE.ORG PETITION
- Fighting for my families and friends’ life!
- Bc, I’ve already lost a loved one. We don’t need to lose any more!
- Health and safety come first!
- I’m Marshallese and I believe this is the exploitation of my people. I feel extremely saddened to hear this news because I know the U.S gov wouldn’t do anything about it to help.
- A plant that got tested with 100+ COVID cases should’ve been shut done AGES ago. These workers bring it home to their family & the majority are Marshallese …. yet people wonder why it’s still spreading. Shake. My. Head.
- I am a registered nurse in NWA and I see first hand what this disease is doing to our community and have heard stories about people exposed but they cannot afford to stay home or are afraid to lose their jobs. We are all part of the community and I don’t want to lose one more elder or young mom, husband, or father from our community. We each have to do what we can to help.
- I work at George’s ane we are currently running the live hang area with barely enough people to keep the lines full.