Photographer: Encarni Pindado
Title: The disposable US workforce: life as an ‘essential’ meatpacking plant worker
Location: Texas United States
Period: 11/2019 - 05/2021
Category: Spot News

Cactus is a small town in the middle of the Texas Panhandle, about an hour from the nearest city, Amarillo. This small town is known for an immigration raid that affected the meatpacking plant in 2006, where many undocumented migrants worked.

Since then, meatpackers in the area have preferred to employ refugees, many of whom are brought in by refugee aid organizations to help them find work in the area and they end up being employed by the meat processing plants.

This area of Texas has the highest number of cattle per square meter in the country, where the meat industry is a very important factor in the local economy and dominate the employ market.

Migrants and refugees are unable to meet the demand for workers in the industry, because the working conditions are so harsh that no matter how much the wages are raised, American people are not interested in working in the industry.

For this report I talked to more than 30 people whose stories about the working conditions, the accidents in the plant and how the pandemic has been treated are very questionable.
José Tovar a former JBS employee, said that workers are consider as disposable as the cattle they process every day.

In interviews, workers at the JBS plant in Cactus described very serious injuries that either go untreated or are not given proper treatment, time off to heal and if they complained, they are bullied or moved to lower paying jobs.

Emanuel had an accident where his index finger was amputated and lost in hospital. Mohamed a refugee from Iraq is disabled with severe back problems due to the work he was doing, he was never operated on and was fired for not going to work despite his pain. Others describe how their eyes and hands are damaged because of the chemicals they use, women who suffer miscarriages, the wear and tear of ligaments and tendons because of the repetitive movement they do in their work and the speed of the production chains.

Many migrants and refugees who do not know their rights are trapped in an industry that exploits and harms them but at the same time, allows them to earn enough money to support their families in their home countries.

During the pandemic they were considered essential workers, while they were sickened by COVID-19 in Cactus JBS took almost a month to implement adequate safety measures and that produced huge human costs throughout the meat industry.

The House of Representatives found that workers at major US meatpacking plants suffered cases and deaths that tripled previous estimates.

We follow the case of Jose Tovar, a JBS worker in Cactus who contracted COVID-19 on the job and had to turn to Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, to get his wages paid while he was sick, because he had not been paid in full. He won the case, but the helplessness of the majority continues in an industry focused on profit and not so much on the human conditions of its workers.

01 The disposable US workforce

Salvador a worker of Latino origin was run over on his way to work at JBS The town has no pedestrian crossing to cross the motorway that separates the meat processing plant from the village

02 The disposable US workforce

Rasheed is a refugee who has been living in the US for more than two decades He runs a small cafe in Cactus where mostly African employees of JBS go to eat

03 The disposable US workforce

Un rancho de engorde de vacuno en el Panhandle la mayor poblaci n ganadera de EE UU

04 The disposable US workforce

A woman returns home to Cactus after finishing her day s work at the JBS slaughterhouse

05 The disposable US workforce

Mohamed a JBS worker shows a picture he took of his infected eye which he explained was caused by the use of certain chemicals at JBS

06 The disposable US workforce

A view of the JBS meat processing plant in Cactus Texas where more than 3 000 people work killing around 5000 cattle every day

07 The disposable US workforce

Mohamed a refugee from the middle east a former JBS worker on the stairs of a friend s house in cactus Mohamed was dismissed after an accident at work that has left him disabled and without access to any benefits

08 The disposable US workforce

Jose at his home in Amarillo Texas went to court to get the money that wasn t given to him while off sick with COVID-19 even though he contracted the virus at JBS

09 The disposable US workforce

Jenhabi on the left in a reunion with women from the Myanmar community in Cactus all are JBS workers

10 The disposable US workforce

Tourists pose in front of the entrance of the Big Texan restaurant the most famous in yellow for offering 72-ounce steaks

11 The disposable US workforce

Emanuel in his home in Cactus has part of his index finger amputated while working at JBS then in the hospital in Amarillo they lost his finger and they could never reattach it

12 The disposable US workforce

The population of Cactus and the Amarillo and the surrounding area spend the night dancing live Mexican music in Cactus Most of them work at JBS