Read time: 3 minutes

John Oliver Takes On The American Meatpacking Industry

“It’s cheaper for companies to run an unsafe plant and occasionally pay those fines, than for them to provide a safe work environment," Oliver said.

Via the A.V. Club, a look at the latest from John Oliver's Last Week Tonight, where we learn that company quotas at meatpacking plants mean some workers have to wear diapers at work:

Then there are the puny fines for worker injury, dismemberment, and death, which, as Oliver, pointing to meat moguls JBS, amount to about .00003 percent of total profits. A slap on the wrist that, as Oliver puts it with characteristic disdain, motivates companies like JBS to give a similarly minuscule “fraction of a fuck about the safety for their workers.” Then there’s the fact that meatpacking giants like their facilities located in rural, isolated areas or jurisdictions where state-level standards can be lowered with aggressive lobbying. (Or straight-up bribes, as Oliver shows in one egregious case from late Texas poultry king Bo Pilgrim, who was caught simply handing legislators blank ten-thousand-dollar checks to legislators.) And that such industries rely on job-insecure populations (immigrants, the formerly incarcerated, the impoverished) who are much less likely to risk their jobs by complaining.

And all that’s before COVID. Then you have cases like those Tyson Foods managers who were caught running an employee COVID death pool about just how many of their crowded-together workers would contract the disease. (They got fired after an exposé, so won’t be able to collect on the 1,500 sick and 8 dead at that one Iowa Tyson plant.) “But what about OSHA?,” any reasonable person invested in the myth that this sort of stuff doesn’t happen in America might cry. Well, as Oliver lays out, that federal worker safety agency is woefully understaffed, handcuffed by restrictive, company-legislated limits on what they can even inspect, and can issue fines so laughably tiny (even for work-related deaths) that, as Oliver says, “It’s cheaper for companies to run an unsafe plant and occasionally pay those fines, than for them to provide a safe work environment.”

As to what can be done, Oliver, as ever, is on the case, in that he delivered some hard truths requiring Americans to make choices that put other people’s well-being over their own comforts. Yeah, John Oliver is pretty good at exasperatedly sighing after bringing that up, too. Of course, people could forego their daily meat until companies stop treating their workers as disposably and wretchedly as its animals, but, as noted, we’re all just so tired, British man. Absent that, strengthening and rebuilding OSHA, eliminating companies’ power over worker’s comp settlements, and slowing down those ever-increasing assembly lines to safer speeds would be things to call your lawmakers about. You know, since, at airtime, some 58 thousand meatpackers have contracted COVID at work, while some 280 have died. As Oliver concluded after playing some Tyson foods “our workers are our family” propaganda, that family does “seem to be a pretty fucking dysfunctional one.” Um, go Packers?

Honestly, it's a little embarrassing that someone who's only been a U.S. citizen since 2009 is so tirelessly determined to make us live up to our national ideals. We've been Americans our entire lives, and so many of us have retreated into indifference -- or cynicism.

Thanks, John.

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