Sara Birhe, whose family arrived from Sioux Falls in Ethiopia in 2001, said her mother bought a four-bedroom house and sent her children to university with only one income from the factory. “By working at Smithfield, you can support your family and not have as much difficulty as if you worked in California, Chicago or D.C.,” she said.
Kooper Caraway, President of the AFL-CIO Sioux Falls Chapter, said that leaders had started sounding the alarm more than a month ago since the plant, due to its overcrowding and lack protective equipment, could become a hot spot for coronaviruses.
“The management simply dragged their feet and kicked the street,” said Caraway. “They just decided it was more profitable to suspend the implementation of these changes until they were absolutely forced. But at that time, the virus was out of control. “
Smithfield officials said they had improved plant cleaning and disinfection, provided additional protective equipment and extended the health benefits for employees. They said they also installed plexiglass and other physical barriers and thermal scanning equipment to detect employees with fever.
“We focus on the health and well-being of our employees and take immediate steps to protect them,” said Kenneth M. Sullivan, president and chief executive officer, in a statement.
Sudanese refugee Deng said she and her colleagues initially thought the virus could not be worse than what they had already experienced, “war, fighting, not enough to eat”.
After hours at the factory, they gathered around common tables in crowded and noisy dining rooms, sharing sambusa from Sudan, egg rolls from China, tibs and injera from Ethiopia. They told stories that reflected different paths to the United States, but struggles that were about the same.