Julia Agos is a reporter and the host of All Things Considered for WITF. Previously, she was a political reporter for WFUV News in New York, where she covered New York City and state politics and hosted the Prickly Politics Podcast. Julia grew up in Sacramento, California and graduated from Fordham University.
Dozens of activists on Friday took part in a caravan protest outside the Bell & Evans poultry processing plant in Lebanon County. They are demanding the facility be temporarily closed and cleaned after two people with connections to the facilities died from COVID-19.
Protesters posted signs in car windows and drove in a caravan around the plant’s secure campus in Fredericksburg.
Make the Road PA – an organization that advocates for Latino workers and which coordinated Friday’s protest – provided an audio statement from one of the plant’s workers. According to the organization, she is the widow of one of the men who died of Covid-19 and asked to remain unidentified for fear of losing her job.
“It is not fair that one must go to a job that is not sanitized. We want to return to work alive and without the virus,” the employee said.
Make the Road says Bell & Evans has not done enough to protect its 1,800 employees and is demanding the plant be closed temporarily with full pay for employees.
“Bell & Evans says they have raised the bar for the entire poultry industry with their humane animal welfare practices. But we believe they have lowered the bar with the inhumane worker exploitation,” Make the Road’s Patty Torres said.
Meat processing plants across the country have recorded many coronavirus cases in recent weeks. The facilities often require employees to work in close proximity to each other, making it easier for the virus to spread.
Bell & Evans did not respond Friday to requests for comment. Earlier this week, the company posted a statement online listing the steps it says are being taken to protect workers, such as distributing face masks and requiring “daily deep cleaning” of all parts of its plants.
“(Bell & Evans) needs to protect essential works. We rely on these workers. They are heroes,” said Torres.
Central Pennsylvania is home to large and growing Latino communities who, along with communities of color generally, have been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus. In areas like the city of York, Latinos account for more than 80 percent of the confirmed cases while making up just one-third of the population.