One Meat Plant, One Thousand Infections: Revisiting Achut Deng


Hey. It's Michael this week revisiting people. We met in the early weeks of the pandemic, listening back and hearing. What's happened to them since our original conversation? Today. A chewed Dang. Pork factory worker in Sioux Falls South Dakota. Wednesday July fifteenth. I came to America Thinking I. Can never go through hell. But what if this come to me? This virus is very dangerous. They caught. Everybody off guard. Including Myself. I was never prepared for. From The New York Times I'm Michael Barr. This is the daily. Today. One of the largest outbreaks of the corona virus in the US has been inside a meat processing plant in South Dakota. My colleague Keelan Dickerson speaks with one of its workers. It's Monday may fourth. As an immigration reporter as soon as I hear that cove in nineteen, starting to spread across the country, a start, thinking about who are the most vulnerable people in this pandemic and right away, meat and poultry plants come to mind. Because these facilities tend to be staffed by immigrants. There's GonNa be a lot of pressure on workers to show up for work because they've been deemed essential by the federal government. And because of the nature of the work, the facilities are massive, and often you have thousands of people working at a single time, and they literally stand shoulder to shoulder touching all the time. Are you there. Oh shoot. You just dropped out. Something happen so I'm put in touch with a woman named Chew Dang. Who We did it? Yes, we did. Just to start out shoot. Can you just kind of introduce yourself and tell us what work you do, so my name is that shoot Dang. I work with SMITHVILLE. We produce pork. A shoot is a shift lead at the Smithfield pork plant in Sioux, falls South Dakota and I am a lead person for one department aches more conversion to works in Conversion Department deboning and processing all different cuts of pork. She's thirty five and she's a single mom of three boys. Give give me a second. Okay, my son discount in. Give me a second. Who are trying to get their homework done? While we talk, so are back. You're back, you're back. Okay, so, how did you come to work at Smithfield? The to go from South Sudan Tovia Kenya and to America yeah okay. So yes, I was born in South Sudan but then when I was sixty years old. We had a terrorist attack in the village. Shoot was born in Sudan and she became an orphan when she was six years old during the country's civil war and we walked Kenya. And I was. In nineteen, ninety, nine, hundred, ninety one still. She grew up in refugee camps, NATO, Thea and Kenya where life was really hard, they created. School! But, pretty much people go and sit under the tree. Because I was building classroom or anything like that? In the beginning, her school was a shady spot beneath a large tree where children wrote their English lessons with sticks and dirt. Yeah, it seemed like it was normal at the time because we have no any choice. She often went days without having food or fresh water. A lot of her friends died. She didn't know if she was ever going to leave, so she took life one day at a time. High we say it was just. Surviving 'cause you, you don't know what would happen tomorrow, you know. And then in the air two thousand, her life changed completely. I got the news that I was I'm going to get a second chance of life. I'M GONNA go to to the United State. She was chosen for a program that relocated Sudanese orphans. All my God. It was a happy is feeling. For me, I cannot believe. I didn't go to sleep the next day I went to school I. I told my friends. Yeah She moved to Kansas City. started a life in America. She graduated High School and Started Community College, and then she starts working as a waitress, and then in her late twenty s doing private security. And then, how do you get to Sioux? Falls South Dakota. How you know. I always tell people I moved to Sioux falls for various reason thinking that I find a man, so that was pretty much Reza right there. I I moved in with my youngest son father than we broke up okay. And how did you hear about the Smithfield? Factory for the first time? He actually told me about it because before I moved here. I told him I. Go a month without a job because a lot of people rely on me and most importantly might kits so and that's when he told me there is a company here, Smithfield. And when you're sharing about it, what what where people saying? It was good things Your start. Wages Smithfield was twelve. Ninety five dot is a very good pay. They have healthcare health insurance. So a lot of people came to Sioux falls because of SMITHVILLE. And what it was offering to people. I know a lot of Sudanese families came here because of Smithville. So. When I went and put in my application right in there. They told me Okay you start tomorrow. Well and I started asked. was a night operator. And for someone who's never heard of Smithfield or been to the plant? Can you just walk through? What exactly it is that you guys do their? So Smithfield we. Received live hawks slaughter them. Cut them into pieces what I mean by that by cutting off. Hams leads. We May Bacon. Ham. Even, dogs, cheese dogs, we have. Those are the things we do as Smithville. The entire. Pig that come alive turned into so many things afterwards. And what is a wizard? Is the circle knife that goes into this electric thing, and you turn it off and on, and what does it used for? They use a knife to trim off fat from the line until this. Pretty much all meet. Just meet without fat. So picture, a massive factory floor with giant chance of pork, zooming by on a conveyor belt and shoot any other wizard knife. Operators are responsible for shaving fat off of the meat as it's zooms past them. How many pigs are processed there every day ten thousand or more pick? That's huge. And they're responsible for four to five percent of all the pork that's produced in the United States. So when you first started, what did you think of it? How did it go? What did I think of Smithfield? Hard work. Hard work is what I thought of it, but you're not really thinking of. How hard it is, you are thinking of money. You know and everything that you you know. Once you get the paycheck. You are able to pay for the apartment. You are able to put food on the table. These were the thing that I was thinking. and. What was it like for you physically in the beginning starting out? Once you start doing something for the first time. Something that you're never done. Your muscle is GonNa rejected bodies rejected so I was always sore. I was always. My risk was sore my arm. Will you know when Numb? Though, after work I would come home and put is like on my shoulder on my wrist and then take ibuprofen. That I did that every night. while. Until one day I went to I eight and I talked to the nurse, and the nurse was very very nice out. Go in, and she said you know what I chewed limit. Give you this advice. You know this job is a hot work as severe heart work you've been doing this was a knife were for a year now and yours is hurting your arm. Hurt your shoulder hurt. Our do one job for about a year, but after that sign another job that way you have rotation in your body. So, she takes US advice. And over the next couple of years she starts moving around the factory two different jobs. She eventually becomes a shift lead, and she starts working a lot of overtime usually eleven to twelve hours a day six days a week, but it really pays off and she starts to feel comfortable financially. I get paid eighteen seventy an hour. What does that higher hourly wage meant for Your Life? My Boys, my all three of them. I can give them what I never have. which is a better life at at at a young age? Last year I took them to Disneyworld. That's just something that when I read, there are cried, but I was. It was a tears of happiness. I'm bringing my kids. I am American buy papers. I bring my kids here and that was something I. Did I was so proud of myself? Between the new salary, she's making and the time that she's working. She's able to move into a bigger apartment with her sons, and she's also supporting five family members who are still living in Africa. This job. Offer me to take care for anybody else. Not, just my boys. In Oh. So you're basically supporting nine people on your salary from Smithfield. Yes wow. So, that's why I pick up overtime. Regardless of me being tired. Every morning when I go to work I put everything that the company offered me in order to make sure this food that I'm making doesn't have anything that can go in her and harm someone because you know these these food or going to families is going to children is going to mothers is going to fathers, uncles aunt everyone around the world. Work in the factory. I'm making food for people around the world. I think of that every day. It sounds like you take a lot of pride in your job. Yes, I do. Do you remember the first time you heard about the coronavirus. Yeah I would say it was sometime in January, February. We, just talking about is. Is something that happened in China and is going to stay in China. Then come. The beginning of March. It was Seattle and then the next morning I went to work, and now everybody works is talking about it, but it's still most of us. as refugees, immigrants is like. Is Probably. You know people are maybe just. Being extra about it right now. Maybe it's not that bad. vinings reacted that way. For me personally I'm like okay, if if it becomes to affect on like I've been through so much. It, this is just like a virus. You talked to someone who had malaria. I survived that source like. Okay if like. If it's GonNa, be like malaria. I can go through it. S JUST GONNA BE! Like any other thing that I've been through. But then on Saturday, March twenty first things start to change at Smithfield. When I went to work that morning. my saw a lot of people with Cleaning up the The handrails. Doors bathroom doors with wives, and unlike was going on, and the one of the people told me I This thing is series that shoot. This thing is serious. I'm thinking now, okay? A hundred fifty to one hundred and sixty people in one shift. You sitting in the break room to wear tables very small. You have six people in one table. And then later that day she gets an email. That time was what I receive. An email video from the CEOS Smithfield Co hi I'm Ken Sullivan President and CEO Smithfield foods I'd like to talk to you today about cove in one thousand nine or corona virus clear, so I watched the video from the show about. This virus as Matt coming from food, according to the FDA and CDC, there's no evidence that covid nineteen can be transmitted by food and America need food. Ever family need food we don't want people to. Struggle from. Hunger let alone a virus families. We feed millions of people every day every single day. It's a business with no shortcuts and no days off. Most of our team members worked side-by-side on production lines in our facilities. We can't stay home. We can't telecommute food after all does not get made on the Internet so at our company is is GonNa get shutdown? Were here were always here? We're food company and despite cove in nineteen indeed. We're working around the clock to do what we do best, and that's deliver. responsibly. How did it feel to you? Have your job deemed essential in the middle of pandemic when people all over the country are panicking? You know your work is deemed. Fundamental to keeping the country going. At one point, I was negative about it. At one point, I was like. Wow, do that. Mean my life. Don't matter. And here I am putting my life at risk coming to work because. People around the world need food. But. I said okay. I'm just GonNa have to stay positive. And people if people need food and I'm able to do that for them. Then I'm just GONNA. Put My life to God to protect me and not get sick did USO lobster, just staying home from work and not going in to be honest. I, do not! I was just thinking off. No I need this job. I need to keep working so I could support my family. And it's. Thinking about it now. And hurts. It hurts that you. You didn't think about yourself. Support for the daily comes from T and t presenting the alienist angel of darkness, the all new season of the acclaimed Emmy Award, winning television series at the turn of the twentieth century uncover a dark and sinister trail of death and deceit as an intrepid team of crime solvers reunite to hunt and elusive killer. Daniel Bruhl Luke Evans and Dakota. Fanning Star in the alienist angel of darkness, the all new season premiere Sunday July nineteenth at nine, eight, central on TNT go to the alienist dot com for more. This is John, illegal I'm a national correspondent with the New York Times and I cover issues of race. What I'm really getting at is telling the stories of marginalized people whose experiences are often unheard and unseen, and in order to tell their stories I really have to meet them where they are going out to protest where there's police firing, tear gas and rubber bullets, if people fighting for racial justice I'm often brought into unpredictable situations situations where you don't know if the police are going to see you as a protest yourself, but that's really what it takes to tell these stories, and if this kind of work is important to you, then I would ask you to support us by subscribing the New York Times. You can do that at ny times dot, com slash subscribe. By the end of March hospitals across the country are being overrun by COVID patients, governors start shutting down businesses and ordering people to shelter in their homes, but in South Dakota, there are still only a few cova cases. And shoot is still going to work until Saturday. March twenty eighth. Now Saturday! My superintendents came up around, said about three o'clock, and he said Okay I want to have a meeting. They asked me if I have any fever cough. Shortness of breath and I say no I'm doing I'm doing good. And he said one of the machine operator tested positive. Assay what well, that person I worked with her. That morning i. I will say about fifteen minutes. They said okay well. You got to go home because he had contact with them like. Really you got. I didn't say it out loud, but I'm thinking. They'd being silly. And that's when they told me. You're going to be under quarantine for the next fourteen days. But I'm still going to get paid forty hours. Is that enough for me? Is Not enough for me as a person who? Do all the time. Overtime is like five hundred extra. Five hundred dollars that for me. A covered a lot of things. What do I do? I can't go and get another job, but at that time I was told is just two weeks. So I'm like okay two weeks. I I'll be okay. It's still going to drop me back. One step backward, but I'll be okay. And then Monday night was when I got sick. Monday night I went to bed, feeling okay. I woke up to about two. AM! With this sharp pain on my body is just feel like someone's stabbed me. So you know, I went to the bathroom and I said okay. Maybe if I take a shower, a cold shower is going to be better so I. Turn the water on, and just when the water hit my body, feel like a bunch of rocks was thrown my body. So I turn the what off. I took the towel to dry myself and my skin I just couldn't use. The towel edges my skin hurt. So like okay on frigging out. And then Thursday night. My Body at this point is Soya's Austin. Even walking like I'm pushing myself. I just felt like something heavy. Sit right on my chest. Now the fear relief kicked in because now I'm I'm having problems breathing? I said okay. If it's GONNA. Be Better for me I, I'm going to stay up I. Don't want to sleep. Because if I go to sleep? Chances are going to be. Going to wake up. That's when I left my room. I came to the living room and just sat there because. I said okay, if if I stay in my room and I died. I. Don't want my kids to find me dead in the room. What was that like for you emotionally? I mean what's going through your mind. Right back. To my childhood. To everything that I've been through it life. About my kids if I die. By kids. will go through the same that I've been through. The loneliness. Having antibody, check into like parents. objected. Break this kiss to this world. Survive! Through everything that I went through. A, aside I haven't had a chance to tell them. They don't know that mom. What Bob with through all they know. Is that my mom workaholic? She will do anything to give us. A Better Life. That's all they know. Is Not a perfect world. I'd make it perfect for them. But if I die. Does, world is not perfect more. Sounds like. A horrible horrible night. It was it was it was one of the worst night ever? So while it shoot is at home sick with the coronavirus. The situation at Smithfield is evolving this. Smithfield pork processing plant is now a corona virus hotspot. More and more of her colleagues are falling ill. How many other cases you hear about among your colleagues? Oh a lot a lot a lot I think within the the sausage as community alone. I think we have like at least forty people that I know. But in my department I was told that it went up to eighty in one department. Eight people at how big is your department on a good day that people showed up one hundred and fifty five. The outbreak at that Sioux falls plant is among the worst clusters of corona virus in the country about two hundred fifty workers. They're tested positive for coronavirus. Three hundred fifty workers tested positive for covid nineteen, and as the days pass, it keeps getting worse. The number of cases skyrockets. Up to more than four hundred smithfield workers who are sick. And the governor calls on the head of the company to stop production one of the nation's largest food processors, smithfield foods will close its pork processing plant in south. Dakota for further cleaning Swan April twelfth. The president of Smithfield announces he's going to close the plant indefinitely. An all the workers are sent home this morning. There were fears. The nations food supply chain is a breaking point after more than a dozen major meat processing plants to become covid nineteen hotspots meanwhile food. Food processing plants across the country are getting hit hard with cove in other major companies like Tyson start raising the alarm that they're having trouble producing and delivering food to the nation's grocery stores because of the virus, meanwhile president trump announced executive order to compel meat processing plants to remain open and last week president trump signs an executive order, declaring meat and poultry plants as part of the nation's critical infrastructure as a way to pressure the plants to keep producing food. In Sioux Falls. The plan is still closed. Smithfield says it will continue to pay workers for forty hours a week until they go back to work and it speeding up plans to reopen the plant as quickly as possible, but that's also raised questions about whether it can do so safely. How are you feeling now physically? Physically I feel I. Feel I feel good. I'm still having a little bit of headache. But you know that's life almost an everyday when you are Bob and you know Zalm not freaking out over it. But my favorite. This wanted a steel Honda. I have no idea why. I'm just trying to get it down to like nine denied least before I call my doctor to go for check in. But. I cannot afford to stay home for a long time. I would give myself a month. And if it goes after four weeks, No. It wouldn't be good for me at all. It sounds like as soon as you start feeling better. Your focus goes from your health back to your finances. Yes, that is correct. So now my focus is to try to take care of myself as possible to wear. When this company opened back up than I'm ready to go, so that's where my focus is. A to. Thank you so much for talking to us about your experience? You're welcome and thank you very much. For at least giving me the. The voice. Of A lot of people don't understand the living the refugee cam. I don't take anything for granted. Because of what I been through. As like and because of what I see happening to other kids. That did not make it. But Persia they are looking over me. They are watching me and. I'm going to make the proud. Shortly after we spoke with a chewed, the Smithfield plant reopened and she returned to work. The. Plant has introduced several new safety precautions including personal protective equipment. plexiglass barriers and onsite testing for the coronavirus. A federal investigation into the original conditions at the plant, which began in May continues. But. Smithfield has taken an aggressive approach to the inquiry. When the US occupational safety and Health Administration sought health records related to the plant from South Dakota's government. smithfield sought to quash the requests in court. After hearing from dozens of daily listeners. A shoot has begun to see her experience in a New Light. And now recognizes the power of her voice She's thinking about writing a book. In the hopes of inspiring women and young people, With her life story. Over back. Then Guard was founded on the simple but radical idea that an investment company can succeed because it puts investors first vanguard is client own you own their funds and the funds own vanguard, which means vanguard is built to ensure that your interests will be the priority together vanguards thirty million investors are changing the way the world invests visit, vanguard, dot, com, or talk to your financial adviser to learn more. Here's what else you need. NERD. In a major reversal. Trump administration is walking back a policy that would have stripped international college students of their US visas. If their coursework was entirely online. The plan had thrown the world of higher education into turmoil. And prompted lawsuits from both colleges and state's attorneys-general. Now under an agreement reached by the administration and colleges, international students can remain in the country even if all their classes are remote. and. The White House is ordering that hospitals bypassed the Centers for Disease Control and prevention when reporting data about the coronavirus. The administration said that the decision would streamline the reporting process. But experts fear. It may allow the government to distort the data for political game. Rather than go to the CDC which traditionally gathers data on treatments, supplies and hospital capacity. It will now go to the Department of Health and Human Services which answers directly to the president. Finally we've fought a good fight in this rice and we've taken our case to the people of Alabama. And the people of Alabama have spoken. They want new leader, a new fresh face. Go to Washington I think we're going to have. Jeff sessions the first US senator to endorse Donald Trump for president and leader his attorney general. Lost his bid for the Republican Senate nomination in Alabama After a race in which trump campaigned against him? Sessions had infuriated trump by recusing himself as attorney general from the Russia investigation. A move that eventually led to his dismissal. Sessions lost to a political newcomer Tommy Tucker Ville. A former college football coach. That's it for the daily. I'm Michael Borrow. See Tomorrow. Do you avoid tough problems and shy away from a debate? Do you think uncertainty limits potential? Neither do we have the University of Chicago booth, School of business we believe in asking questions and questioning answers with campuses in Chicago, London and Hong Kong. The booth MBA's for people who challenges as opportunities and want the skills to make positive change in any market anywhere in the world. 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