May 2, 2018

Easing one of the world's worst jobs

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Poultry and meat workers quit in numbers rivaling almost any industry. That's because their physically tough work is among the least-pleasant on the planet.

What's new: Tyson Foods — the largest American poultry producer — is getting praised by industry activists for improved conditions, including higher wages and an education program for its largely immigrant work force.

  • Wages were an average of $14.78 an hour last year, the company says in a report issued last month.
  • Hundreds of the company's workers have participated in an in-plant education program, called Upward Academy, says Kevin Scherer, senior manager for employee social responsibility at Tyson.
  • The education program, done in partnership with state and local government funding, reached its 27th plant last month.

The background: Tyson has been under intense scrutiny for worker injuries and other problems, but two years ago agreed to join a program organized by Oxfam to improve worker conditions. Oxfam's Minor Sinclair said he tried to get the four major food companies to participate — Tyson, Perdue, Pilgrim's Pride and Sanderson Farms — but that only Tyson agreed.

  • "Our sense is that Tyson's has taken real steps forward improving pay," Sincair tells Axios. "It's a work in progress. You don't move to a totally clean slate. They are on the right path, engaging in a serious way and responsive to us and other people."

In response to an email, Pilgrim's referred questions to his sustainability report for 2017. Case and Sanderson Farms did not respond.

The industry is so tough that Tyson and the other companies have to scour the U.S. for mostly immigrant workers willing to do the job, said Christopher Leonard, author of The Meat Racket, a book on Tyson.

  • Leonard tells Axios that workers are immigrants coming from as far away as southeast Asia and Somalia.
  • Scherer said there can be 30 different languages spoken in the plants.
  • This is the rationale behind Upward Academy, which teaches English, ordinary life skills, and preparation for U.S. citizenship.

"The problem we are trying to address is the issue of stability," Scherer said. "My team deeply believes that if you can bring stability to a person in family life you can bring stability to work force metrics. It makes great business sense."

Go deeper: Last year, the New Yorker's Michael Grabell profiled Case Farms.

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NYC races to build field hospitals as coronavirus death toll tops 1,000

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announces at the USTA Bille Jean King tennis center that the venue will be transformed into a 350-bed temporary hospital. Photo: Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told a news conference Tuesday of plans to triple hospital bed numbers to combat the novel coronavirus by transforming facilities into makeshift hospitals — including U.S. Open tennis courts.

The big picture: The city now accounts for a quarter of all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. — more than 1,000 as of Wednesday morning. De Blasio said the city had "about 20,000 working hospital beds in our major hospitals" before the outbreak. "We now need to, in just the next weeks ... produce three times that number," he said.

Go deeperArrow19 mins ago - Health

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 12:30 a.m. ET: 859,556 — Total deaths: 42,332 — Total recoveries: 178,300.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in confirmed cases. Total confirmed cases as of 12:30 a.m. ET: 189,510 — Total deaths: 4,076 — Total recoveries: 7,109.
  3. Business updates: Should you pay your rent or mortgage during the coronavirus pandemic? Find out if you are protected under the CARES Act.
  4. Public health updates: More than 400 long-term care facilities across the U.S. report patients with coronavirus — Older adults and people with underlying health conditions are more at risk, new data shows.
  5. Federal government latest: President Trump said the next two weeks would be "very painful," with projections indicating the virus could kill 100,000–240,000 Americans.
  6. Coronavirus in custody: Inmates in all U.S. federal prisons are set to enter a 14-day quarantine on April 1. A federal judge on Tuesday ordered U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release 10 detained immigrants who are at risk of contracting COVID-19 while in confinement.
  7. U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt: Captain of nuclear aircraft carrier docked in Guam pleaded with the U.S. Navy for more resources after more than 100 members of his crew tested positive.
  8. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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U.S. coronavirus updates: Death toll tops 4,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The novel coronavirus has now killed more than 4,000 people in the U.S. — with over 1,000 deaths reported in New York City alone, per Johns Hopkins data. The number of deaths are still much lower than those reported in Italy, Spain and China.

Of note: Hours earlier, President Trump noted it's "going to be a very painful two weeks," with projections indicating the novel coronavirus could kill 100,000–240,000 Americans — even with strict social distancing guidelines in place. "They are going to be facing a war zone," he said of medical workers.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 2 hours ago - Health