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LULAC calls for a Meatless May

Contributed photo Joe Henry with LULAC is organizing a Meatless May against corporate beef products.

A group of activist organizations are calling for a boycott of corporately produced meat during the month of May. 

The Meatless May boycott comes after a reported COVID-19 outbreak at the JBS plant in Marshalltown and other meatpacking plants around Iowa.

“We are a Latino civil rights organization joining a coalition of Iowa farmers, environmentalists, community activists and union groups to launch meatless May,” said Joe Henry, president of Latinos United of Iowa LULAC Council 307. “The campaign is focused on protecting our essential workers and our national food supply.” 

The announcement was made during a news conference hosted by the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa or LULAC.

“This is a boycott campaign against corporate beef, pork, poultry and eggs,” Henry said. “This is not against family farmers who raise livestock.” 

The group is trying to use Meatless May as a rallying cry through events and social media. Several unions, politicians and former politicians spoke during the news conference. 

“We have been advocating for workers rights in these meatpacking facilities for many years, and we know that when this virus arrived, because of those conditions, we were going to have a major issue,” said Nick Salazar, LULAC Iowa state director and president of LULAC Council 371. “We need everybody across the state of Iowa to join us as a community because it impacts everybody.”

Their goal is dignity through sustainable production by having mandatory COVID-19 testing at plants, a reduction in work speed, more workspace for social distancing, full-paid sick leave, no out-of-pocket costs for health care and plexiglass between line workers. 

On Friday, Marshall County had 500 reported cases and two deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

LULAC has also filed Iowa Workforce Development OSHA complaint in April. The JBS complaint states that unsafe working conditions at the plant in Marshalltown exist in cutting, processing, break and dressing rooms. The complaint further states JBS employs 2,400 people in Marshalltown “who work shoulder to shoulder in most of the meat cutting and processing department rooms at the facility.”

The LULAC’s complaint cites meatpacking plants across Iowa and was sent to OSHA after a worker at the JBS facility in Ottumwa tested positive for COVID-19 and another employee was in self-isolation.

Two weeks ago 34 employees at the JBS process plant tested positive for COVID-19. Since then there has not been any more communication from JBS on reported cases in the plant.

Henry said several workers at JBS went to a human resources supervisor to talk about their conditions. 

“We cannot continue this pace,” Henry said, quoting the workers. “We have co-workers who are sick. You need to provide pay for time off. This is coming out of Marshalltown, Iowa today.” 

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Contact Thomas Nelson at tnelson@timesrepublican.com

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