notes on the Delta variant
"La mitad de los trabajadores están infectados. Lo que no es justo es que los estén forzando a trabajar así enfermos" - poultry processing worker in Arkansas
In February of 2021, I worked on an op-ed about poultry processing workers dying of Covid that argued that meat processing companies needed to have a plan for vaccinating workers. The op-ed was at the New York Times for two months, and when the editors had me inform Tyson of the impending publication of the article, the story very suddenly got killed. The only good news is that after my article was killed, Tyson announced that they would begin vaccinating workers. I can’t say whether or not the fear of my article being published had any influence over Tyson, but I would like to think it did.
Meat processing companies have been silent about the rapid spread of the Delta variant and the number of workers on disability due to long-haul Covid symptoms. But the truth is evident in the labor shortage they are desperately confronting. Workers report being asked (with the threat of retaliation) to work seven days a week. They also report that they will not be allowed to take any Christmas vacation. They report lines that are not running due to a lack of workers. They report that at some processing facilities their best guess is that 50% of the workers currently have the Delta variant. They report being asked to work despite testing positive for Covid.
And, yes, I have continued to work and conduct interviews. And in the process, I have tested positive for the Delta variant. I’m asymptomatic and thankful to be able to quarantine. I get tested regularly because of my work, but I am working in Arkansas, a state that has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. Although I am not supposed to be a part of the story, if the pandemic has shown us anything, it is how intricately our lives are connected. I am thankful to the meat processing workers who continue to risk their lives daily at work and who, despite the threat of retaliation from employers, continue to tell the truth in the hopes of saving lives. I continue to have faith in the strength of true words
I wrote about the labor rights struggles of immigrant poultry processing workers for a forthcoming book: What Things Cost: an anthology for the people is edited by Rebecca Gayle Howell and Ashley M. Jones, with Emily Jalloul. What Things Cost will be published by the University Press of Kentucky in the Fall 2022 cycle, and will be a fundraiser for the Poor People’s Campaign. All royalties will be contributed to their extraordinary justice work. It includes work from such poets as Kwame Dawes, Sonia Guiñansaca, Keith S. Wilson, Su Hwang, Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, Diane Gilliam, Jacob Shores-Argüello, Iliana Rocha, Erika Meitner, Alicia Ostriker, Geffrey Davis, Rosa Alcalá, George Ella Lyon, Dorianne Laux & Nikky Finney.
March 2022: Arizona State University - my first in-person speaking invitation of the pandemic, date TBD
September 23: Baldwin Wallace University lecture on"How Studying Spanish Prepared Me for a Career in Journalism"
September 20: University of San Francisco lecture on "On Bilingual Reporting as a Journalist Working in Latin America"
Get vaccinated. Wear masks. Get tested regularly. Keep working for collective truth and goodness.