Little is more associated with Omaha than a good steak, more with Nebraska than beef.
When we sit down to enjoy this classic American meal, which in many ways is a symbol of our good life, we might think about the cook. We might think about the farmer.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced us to think, at least a little, about the least pleasant part of this process: The packing house worker.
It’s traditionally grueling work that increasingly is done worldwide by immigrants — in Germany, where slaughterhouse workforces also have been hit by COVID-19, many of the workers are traditionally repressed Roma people. Canada last year launched a three-year immigration pilot project to help fill packing house jobs.
Clearly, this is critical work, if countries find it important enough to import human beings to kill and cut up the animals their citizens then eat.
We need to respect the people who do these jobs; it is in the American DNA to revere the working man and woman.
It is right to call for protections for meatpackers amid this crisis.
It is right to celebrate the American dream of immigrants, as described to World-Herald reporters Erin Duffy and Natalie Saenz for their report Sunday on the concerns of meatpacking workers and their families.
It is right to think of the workers first, over the fruits of their labors.
It is incumbent on the state to ensure workplace safety. At a bare minimum, government must be sure packing companies are consistently using best practices from the University of Nebraska Medical Center playbook developed for this crisis — albeit only after the virus had begun to take its toll.
It’s shaky ground to blame the way workers live for spread of the virus rather than their cramped workplaces.
The fact of COVID-19 outbreaks among packing workers around the globe and the experience of U.S. auto manufacturing plants suggest conditions in these workplaces are at play.
American auto plants shut down in March. Twenty-six members of the United Auto Workers union have died of COVID. Spikes in diagnoses among those workers stopped after the plant closures — and at no point did authorities suggest the problem had to do with auto workers’ home life.
It is wrong to consider immigrant meatpackers as “others,” somehow different from “us” — those who just eat the meat.
Speaking of a COVID hot spot there, Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack said last week the surge “was due to the meatpacking … It wasn’t just the regular folks in Brown County.”
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem last month said of a hot spot associated with a Sioux Falls plant, “99% of what’s going on today wasn’t happening inside the facility.” She cannot know that to be true, and it flies in the face of reason.
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said meatpacking workers might be getting the disease at the grocery store — an odd assertion given that most of us go buy groceries.
The virus certainly spreads in the community. Evidence also is ample that manufacturing and meatpacking settings are particularly dangerous.
Let’s not blame these workers’ lifestyle.
Let’s salute and respect these workers. Let’s cheer for their families.
Let’s stand up for the safety of their workplaces and recognize the dignity and, today, courage involved in a day’s work.
When we sit down to our meals and think of our blessings, let’s give thanks for everyone who makes them possible.