COVID-19 Cases Inside the Meat Industry Are Rising

Written by Jennifer Clark
Posted May 13, 2020

I know it seems like you can’t escape news about COVID-19, but that’s what’s happening in the world, and it would be ignorant to pretend companies, industries, and people aren’t being affected by it. 

Tyson Foods (NYSE: TSN) is one of those companies that's having a difficult time with COVID-19. There are at least 4,500 Tyson workers across 15 states who have the virus, and 18 have died. It's very troubling that the country’s major food suppliers have seen their processing plants become new hotspots for the coronavirus. 

In order to reassure the public and its employees, Tyson instituted a plan to protect workers by taking employees’ temperatures, requiring workers to wear facemasks, daily deep cleaning, and installing workstation dividers. It has even relaxed its attendance policy and waived the time it takes to qualify for short-term disability. It has also waived co-pay, co-insurance, and deductible costs for COVID-19 testing.

It was only recently, on April 29, that the company raised its short-term disability coverage to 90% of normal pay until the end of June. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encouraged meat processing plants to give their workers paid sick leave to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But Tyson still doesn’t offer full paid sick leave. Employees who may suspect that they are sick and might need to self-quarantine have to choose between surviving on less pay or paying attention to their health so they can ensure they are well enough to return to work. But then that raises another concern: Will their work environment even be clear of the virus? It seems like a vicious cycle.

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 A Tyson plant in Wilkesboro, North Carolina shuts down from Saturday through Monday for “deep cleaning and sanitizing.” It's a difficult task to make sure that the plant is not compromised by an employee who doesn’t know that they are sick or who continues to go to work despite feeling sick. With all of this, you have trust that people are making sure they are doing their best to contain the virus. 

It was only a few weeks ago that plants were shut down and reports of meat shortages in grocery stores and fast-food restaurants surfaced. That's a frightening prospect, so naturally, politicians stepped in to remedy the situation and to prevent more panic buying.

An executive order by President Trump declared the meat supply “critical infrastructure” and plants like Tyson’s would need to open back up and get back to work. And here they are — back to work, with some processing plants closed to be efficiently cleaned and sanitized because COVID-19 cases are rising.

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Of course, some safety guidelines were necessary to make workers at these processing plants come back to work. But some are saying those guidelines have come far too late. The New York Times reported that high-level executives lobbied the White House to help protect Tyson from lawsuits.

More than two dozen interviews with plant employees, immigrant rights advocates, doctors, lawyers, and government officials indicated that the company might be failing to provide safety equipment to its Waterloo employees by refusing to close the plant. Obviously, it's unacceptable for Tyson to ignore safety guidelines and put its workers and products in jeopardy. 

The head of Tyson's beef and pork operations, Steve Stouffer, mentioned in an interview that the company did the best it could with the evolving situation of the coronavirus, but he did acknowledge that it could have done more. 

Small or large, being a business during this pandemic is hard. There's no way to know what the future holds and when you'll be able to "return to normal" and start making some revenue to survive. You don't want to make the pandemic worse, but you also want to keep everything you've worked for afloat. 

Tyson Foods closed out trading on Tuesday, May 12 at $60.15 — down 3% from its $62.18 close on April 13. 

Until next time, 

Jennifer Clark
Pro Trader Today
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