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A meat worker who died of coronavirus was reportedly told not to wear a mask at work, according to Bloomberg.
64-year-old Rafael Benjamin, who worked at a Pennsylvania plant owned by meat giant Cargill, was given a face mask by his daughter on March 25 after he confided in his adult children telling them he was worried about the virus.
Benjamin was reportedly told to remove the mask by a supervisor who said it was ‘creating unnecessary fears among plant employees’ on March 27.
By April 4, he called in sick to work, suffering from a fever and cough. After being admitted to hospital a few days later, he died from the virus on April 19.
While Benjamin was in hospital, the plant was closed for around weeks, as deep cleaning took place after other staff tested positive. United Food & Commercial Workers International, the industry workers’ union, said 164 of the plant’s 900 workers had been infected by this point.
Speaking about Benjamin’s death, Cargill spokesman Daniel Sullivan said in a statement the company is ‘deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life [and its] sympathy is with the family’.
Sullivan added that the company has been working with health officials in a bid to protect workers. Measurements include providing workers with face masks, and offering up to 14 days of additional paid leave for coronaviruses absences.
He said: “As we continue our work to keep people fed at this critical time, our focus is protecting the health of our employees and preventing the spread of the virus.”
The treatment of meat workers has already been under the spotlight, as the facilities have been described as COVID-19 hotspots. Despite the spread of infection, at the end of last month U.S. President Donald Trump issued an executive order to compel the facilities stay open during the pandemic.
The U.S. president signed the order after meat giant Tyson took out full-page ads in national newspapers warning of impending meat shortages. Trump told reporters that slaughterhouses closed because of ‘sort of a legal roadblock more than anything else’ adding that the order solves ‘liability problems’.
The move was unpopular with unions, with the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union saying: “We only wish that this administration cared as much about the lives of working people as it does about meat, pork and poultry products.”