Washington Insider-- Tuesday

Complaints Against Meat Companies

Here's a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN's well-placed observer.

Trump Says Phase Two US-China Deal Not Currently On The Table

President Donald Trump said a phase two trade deal with China is not under consideration, saying the relationship between Washington and Beijing has deteriorated too much.

“I don't think about that,” Trump said Friday when asked about the possibility of a second round of trade agreements with China. “The relationship with China has been severely damaged... They could have stopped the plague, they could have stopped it, they didn't stop it.”

The Trump administration has blamed China for being the source of the coronavirus pandemic, opposed China's measures to limit Hong Kong's autonomy, and become increasingly critical of human rights abuses toward Uighur Muslims in China's Xinjiang region. China has said U.S. criticism on these issues could put phase one of the agreement in jeopardy.

AFBF Among Groups Pressing Congress On PPP Fixes

The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) is among the groups pressing Congress to pass the Small Business Expense Protection Act, which would allow small businesses to deduct expenses paid with a forgiven Paycheck Protection Program loan from their taxes.

Currently IRS rules prohibit deducting expenses that are paid using funds from a PPP loan that is forgiven. Lawmakers intended for those funds to remain deductible, supporters of the legislation say, and they urged Congress to make the correction.

“The Small Business Expense Protection Act will fix this misinterpretation and reestablish the ability of small businesses that have received PPP loans to deduct business expenses as the CARES Act intends,” AFBF and other groups said in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

The measure is currently awaiting consideration before the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee.

Washington Insider: Complaints Against Meat Companies

In a report that is being picked up by daily newspapers, including the Washington Post, the Associated Press is reporting that new pressure on parts of the meat industry is coming from worker complaints alleging that processing companies Tyson and JBS have “engaged in workplace racial discrimination during the coronavirus pandemic.”

The AP said several worker advocacy organizations have filed with USDA over the matter, alleging that company polices violated a section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects individuals from racial discrimination by recipients of federal financial assistance.

The allegations assert that the companies “adopted policies that reject U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on distancing and protective gear on meat processing lines,” and that the operating procedures have a discriminatory impact on mostly Black, Latino, and Asian workers.

Tyson has received more than $109 million from USDA programs this year and JBS more than $45 million, the complaint said. As recipients of federal taxpayer dollars they are required to comply with federal laws.

“When they took that money, they knew at that point that they would be held accountable to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but they continued to violate that act,” said Joe Henry, director of Forward Latino, one of the groups filing the complaint. Others include the Food Chain Workers Alliance, HEAL Food Alliance, American Friends Service Committee of Iowa and the Idaho Organization of Resource Councils.

Coronavirus infections were first reported in meatpacking plants in March and since then at least 34,961 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed among workers in 367 packing plants and at least 144 meatpacking workers have died, the complaint said.

A CDC report released last week found 87% of those coronavirus cases occurred among racial and ethnic minorities even though they make up 61% of the worker population.

After the outbreaks were uncovered, meatpacking plants began providing workers with face coverings, installed shields between work stations and implemented new procedures for distancing during breaks -- but they declined to adopt other U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for keeping people at least 6 feet apart, the AP said. The companies also declined to initiate slower speeds on production lines or add shifts to enable social distancing, according to the complaint.

As a result, the complaint alleges that company operating procedures have a disparate impact on Black, Latino, and Asian workers, who make up a large share of production workers at the companies' plants, representing a pattern or practice of racial discrimination.

Tyson spokesman Worth Sparkman told the AP that the company was still reviewing the complaints and noted that the company's top priority is the health and safety of all workers, their families and the communities where plants are located.

“We've transformed the way our plants operate to protect our team members, implementing measures such as symptom screening before every shift,” he said.

Cameron Bruett, a spokesman for JBS and subsidiary Pilgrim's Pride said the company welcomes any review of its practices and response to the pandemic.

“During this pandemic, we have maintained our operations and the jobs they create only when we believe our facilities to be safe. We have embraced our responsibility to provide a safe working environment and will continue to do so. Our efforts have followed, and often exceeded, CDC guidance,” he said. USDA representatives declined to comment.

The complaint goes to the USDA through an administrative procedure and it will be up to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to decide how it's resolved, the AP said. The procedure could result in an agreement between the worker groups, the USDA and the companies or it could take years to get to a final resolution if there's no agreement, according to Dave O'Brien, a civil rights attorney in Cedar Rapids who handled such complaints in the Obama administration's Labor Department.

The complaint filed last week asks the Civil Rights Division of the USDA to investigate and remedy the discrimination -- and for the agency to suspend or terminate funding to the companies if they do not comply with federal laws.

So, we will see. The number of meat plant workers affected by the virus has been enormous, and the impacts on minority workers are attracting wide notice. This promises to be yet another negative impact that the US meat industry faces that likely will be both extremely difficult and expensive to overcome—and which should be watched closely by producers as these debates proceed, Washington Insider believes.

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