‘They think workers are like dogs.’ How pork plant execs sacrificed safety for profits.
Leer en españolThis story is part of a collaborative reporting initiative between USA TODAY and the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting and is supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Bernardo Serpa cut pork legs eight hours a day, six days a week.He made the same cut roughly 12,000 times per shift, wielding a sharp knife as a production line worker at the second-largest pork processing plant in the country.Then the coronavirus pandemic hit. In one week, dozens of his colleagues at the Triumph Foods plant in St. Joseph, Missouri, got sick. It prompted the company to test all of its 2,800 employees. In late April, large white tents appeared outside.When it was Serpa’s turn, he got his nose swabbed. Then he went back inside where he stood elbow to elbow, shoulder to shoulder, with dozens of other potentially infected employees to await the results. His test came back negative, but his relief was short-lived. One week later, the Cuban immigrant was among hundreds of his co-workers to contract the coronavirus in what would become one of the nation’s largest meatpacking plant outbreaks.Serpa would spend nearly four months in the hospital, much of it in a coma. On Oct. 16, he died.USA