Will Avilés: Meatpacking and COVID-19
In this interview, we speak with Dr. Will Avilés, professor and chair of political science at the University of Nebraska at Kearney where his fields are comparative politics and Latin American politics. Dr. Avilés received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Florida International University and his Ph.D. from the University of California-Riverside. He joined UNK in 2002.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, he has been working with community activists and families from the meatpacking industry, an industry that has recently garnered national headlines related to COVID-19 cases and working conditions.
Special thanks to Margaret Huettl for providing a video land acknowledgement for this episode.
More information on Dr. Avilés' work: facebook.com/NebraskaSolidarity
To listen to the podcast version of this, visit: https://anchor.fm/gp-lectures
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[00:00:00.330]Welcome to "Great Plains:Anywhere,"
[00:00:02.020]a Paul A. Olson Lecture,
[00:00:03.490]from the Center for Great Plains Studies,
[00:00:05.180]at the University of Nebraska.
[00:00:07.200]Today we're joined by Dr. Will Aviles,
[00:00:09.380]Professor and Chair of Political Science,
[00:00:11.470]at the University of Nebraska at Kearney,
[00:00:13.830]where his fields are comparative politics,
[00:00:15.960]and Latin American politics.
[00:00:18.010]People who study comparative politics,
[00:00:20.030]focus on political systems in other countries,
[00:00:22.669]and how Governments promote,
[00:00:24.470]or inhibit the aspirations of the people.
[00:00:26.890]Dr. Aviles received his Bachelor's of Arts degree,
[00:00:30.020]from Florida International University,
[00:00:32.420]a PhD from the University of California Riverside,
[00:00:35.550]and joined UNK in 2002.
[00:00:38.440]Since the COVID-19 pandemic,
[00:00:40.340]he has been working with community activists,
[00:00:42.470]and families from the meat packing industry,
[00:00:45.060]an industry that has recently garnered National headlines,
[00:00:47.750]related to COVID-19 cases and working conditions.
[00:00:51.891]On behalf of the Center for Great Plains Studies,
[00:00:54.000]I would like to begin by acknowledging,
[00:00:56.130]that the University of Nebraska is a land grant institution,
[00:00:59.840]with campuses and programs on the past, present,
[00:01:02.620]and future homelands of the Pawnee, Ponka, Otoe-Missouria,
[00:01:06.269]Omaha, Lakota, Dakota, Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Kaw peoples,
[00:01:11.996]as well as the relocated Ho-Chunk, Iowa and Sac,
[00:01:15.510]and Fox peoples.
[00:01:17.050]Please take a moment to consider the legacies,
[00:01:19.280]of more than 150 years of displacement, violence,
[00:01:23.650]settlement and survival that bring us here today.
[00:01:27.090]This acknowledgement and the centering of indigenous peoples
[00:01:30.100]is a start as we move forward together,
[00:01:32.619]for the next 150 years.
[00:01:35.608]My name's Dr. Dijon DeLaPorte I am the events coordinator,
[00:01:38.750]here at the Center for Great Plains Studies.
[00:01:41.187]I'm Katie Nieland I'm the assistant director,
[00:01:43.990]at the Center for Great Plains Studies.
[00:01:46.267]I'm Will Aviles I'm a professor,
[00:01:47.797]at the Department of Political Science at UNK,
[00:01:50.570]I'm also chair of the department,
[00:01:52.190]and I'm also the president of the Faculty union,
[00:01:54.890]here at the university.
[00:01:57.200]Could you share a little bit about your role,
[00:01:59.310]at the University of Nebraska Kearney?
[00:02:01.230]Sure Dijon my role as you mentioned,
[00:02:04.257]I'm the chair of the department,
[00:02:05.520]as I mentioned in my introduction,
[00:02:07.050]and you know my work regarding that administrative,
[00:02:11.780]obviously have a... I have a really pretty effective,
[00:02:15.300]and excellent department here at UNK.
[00:02:18.520]My own kind of teaching and research,
[00:02:20.670]is focused primarily on Latin American politics,
[00:02:24.250]issues of globalization, the drug war in Latin America,
[00:02:28.420]as well as issues related to political violence,
[00:02:33.180]in South America.
[00:02:34.820]So that's my teaching and research,
[00:02:37.470]that I spend most of my time with here at UNK.
[00:02:41.860]So what led you a scholar of Latin America,
[00:02:44.620]to study and advocate for meat packers in Nebraska,
[00:02:48.690]and on the Great Plains?
[00:02:50.550]Well a lot of different factors came to play,
[00:02:53.760]regarding my interest in meat packing workers,
[00:02:55.860]here in Nebraska in particular during this year,
[00:02:59.010]of the global pandemic.
[00:03:01.060]First and foremost for some time I've done work,
[00:03:04.420]in my teaching in my classes,
[00:03:06.160]examining issues of immigration.
[00:03:08.730]And the various push and pull factors,
[00:03:10.550]that are associated with the flow of migrants,
[00:03:13.260]from Latin America to the United States.
[00:03:15.320]As we all know, anyone who's watching this video knows,
[00:03:18.091]so much of our working men and women,
[00:03:21.400]in those meat packing plants are important magnets,
[00:03:23.830]have been for generations for many of these immigrants.
[00:03:27.420]So prior to this pandemic,
[00:03:30.462]I was pretty familiar with this dynamic in Central Nebraska,
[00:03:35.280]and throughout the State.
[00:03:36.502]So there's that larger context,
[00:03:39.240]now in terms of the immediate context of 2020,
[00:03:41.843]I basically was... different individuals started organizing,
[00:03:45.810]once it seemed clear that the meat packing,
[00:03:48.193]the plants themselves,
[00:03:50.140]were not going to be changing their behavior.
[00:03:53.003]And that workers were gonna be expected to still be working,
[00:03:57.440]right on top of each other,
[00:03:58.770]very fast lines on the factory floor,
[00:04:01.940]and in just absolutely vulnerable situations,
[00:04:04.650]when it comes to the spread of the virus.
[00:04:07.220]And a colleague of mine here at UNK reached out to me,
[00:04:10.760]to ask if I'd be interested in helping them out,
[00:04:13.000]and I said yes to that question,
[00:04:16.360]I further discovered that many of my current students,
[00:04:19.710]and my former students were actually in these very plants.
[00:04:24.780]Their parents were in these plants.
[00:04:27.080]So that was perhaps an added incentive,
[00:04:30.220]for me to get more involved and more engaged,
[00:04:33.730]in trying to support the efforts of the group,
[00:04:36.220]that we developed called,
[00:04:37.870]the Solidarity with Packing Plant Workers.
[00:04:40.110]So yeah I guess a larger...
[00:04:42.240]my larger research Latin American politics,
[00:04:44.340]my understanding of this kind of immigration dynamic,
[00:04:47.600]and the difficult nature of the work,
[00:04:50.350]and kind of exploitive nature of the work,
[00:04:51.930]prior to the pandemic.
[00:04:53.500]And then the pandemic hits and I become aware,
[00:04:57.540]of these various groups,
[00:04:58.410]that are trying to get together and do something,
[00:05:00.690]and it's like, "okay yeah".
[00:05:01.523]And now in addition I've got students their mom and dads,
[00:05:04.890]are in those plants right now.
[00:05:06.510]So that all kind of combined led me to get involved.
[00:05:10.860]That makes the topic really like personally impactful,
[00:05:14.330]when you know people involved.
[00:05:17.490]Oh it absolutely does, It absolutely does,
[00:05:19.550]and you know so at times it was definitely a bit difficult,
[00:05:23.570]I think at times for all of us,
[00:05:25.810]when...cause actually interacting with the daughters,
[00:05:29.640]and the sons who are actually a part of the organization.
[00:05:32.510]And so... because also at the same...
[00:05:35.170]So that was difficult at moments,
[00:05:36.550]but also it was absolutely pretty impressive,
[00:05:38.970]that my former students were taking this leadership role,
[00:05:41.280]where they're already entering...
[00:05:42.160]They're in their professions,
[00:05:43.100]they're already doing what they can,
[00:05:44.880]but they themselves are deciding they need to get involved.
[00:05:48.210]So that in itself was quite inspiring,
[00:05:51.260]and just it was a real good feeling,
[00:05:53.020]to be in solidarity with them.
[00:05:54.690]So we later as the you know,
[00:05:57.580]much of this work got started in April,
[00:06:00.140]and as we got into the summer,
[00:06:02.074]Omaha, Lincoln, communities in those areas also got engaged,
[00:06:08.680]and got involved in the process.
[00:06:11.130]Or at least in terms of trying to help us figure out ways,
[00:06:14.120]of bringing more attention to this issue,
[00:06:16.074]and to try to put pressure on our political leaders.
[00:06:19.900]So you mentioned that you started doing the work in April?
[00:06:24.868]So since that time what have you discovered?
[00:06:26.580]Well I discovered a number of things,
[00:06:28.195]I guess not necessarily in the order of priority,
[00:06:31.270]I discovered the... that reasonable requests,
[00:06:35.350]to Governor Ricketts and much of our political establishment
[00:06:38.425]were viewed by them as unreasonable,
[00:06:40.600]and that was a bit surprising.
[00:06:41.770]So for example it was surprising to learn to the extent that
[00:06:46.494]our leadership here in the State,
[00:06:49.100]was unwilling to report the number of positive cases,
[00:06:52.520]in a specific plant.
[00:06:54.100]That was something that we did what we could to pressure,
[00:06:57.800]and demand happen so that workers,
[00:07:00.808]and those peoples in those communities,
[00:07:01.641]would have a sense of how well a particular plant was doing,
[00:07:04.430]in terms of getting control of the spread of the virus.
[00:07:07.250]That was something that was from the beginning,
[00:07:10.050]was viewed as absolutely unreasonable still not clear why,
[00:07:13.860]I understand I had my own understanding as to why,
[00:07:16.870]but I was surprised to the extent,
[00:07:18.850]that they were willing to try to conceal that information,
[00:07:22.200]cause they knew the information.
[00:07:23.970]But they felt it wasn't appropriate,
[00:07:25.700]and perhaps unfair to a specific plant,
[00:07:28.810]to share that information.
[00:07:30.760]I also learned the limits to unions here in Nebraska,
[00:07:33.900]when it comes to meat packing workers,
[00:07:35.550]United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW),
[00:07:39.300]is the major union that represents meat packing workers here
[00:07:42.810]well across the country.
[00:07:44.660]And it was... one of my roles was,
[00:07:48.730]cause I'm also a president of a union here,
[00:07:50.770]at the University was to early on to act as a bridge,
[00:07:54.240]to that union with our efforts as activists on the ground.
[00:07:58.420]And it was surprising to learn that the relationship,
[00:08:02.300]between the rank and file and the leadership in the union,
[00:08:05.310]was not as close,
[00:08:07.760]not as connected as I had anticipated or had assumed.
[00:08:12.770]And so that was something...
[00:08:14.130]And this is they have new leadership in this union,
[00:08:16.420]and they're... I generally believe,
[00:08:18.100]they're trying their best improve that communication,
[00:08:20.800]but there was a lack of...
[00:08:22.430]there was some distrust between members,
[00:08:24.350]of the rank and file,
[00:08:25.780]a least the workers that we interacted with,
[00:08:27.980]and their families and just over time it became clear,
[00:08:31.610]in the leadership of the union.
[00:08:33.080]Even when you had a plant like JBS and Grand Island,
[00:08:35.260]it has a union represents them.
[00:08:36.890]Or the union that are...
[00:08:38.030]they represent the Smithfield workers as well,
[00:08:40.860]but there seemed to be a real lack of coordination,
[00:08:45.910]between that leadership in the rank and file.
[00:08:48.220]So that was something else that I learned,
[00:08:50.380]and I make it's still probably part of the core things,
[00:08:53.870]that I learned I mean obviously,
[00:08:55.050]it was troubling to get a sense of how slow,
[00:09:00.470]and how inadequate the plants were being,
[00:09:03.020]in terms of their efforts to improve.
[00:09:06.100]And impress I wasn't surprised,
[00:09:08.250]maybe but that was also a bit frustrating as we went along.
[00:09:11.820]So Reuters recently published a story,
[00:09:15.420]that talked about a lawsuit,
[00:09:19.280]regarding surviving members of COVID-19,
[00:09:24.640]in a work that they've been trying to make,
[00:09:27.520]on getting a workers' compensation benefits.
[00:09:29.910]This was at a JBS plant in Greeley Colorado.
[00:09:33.170]Have you heard any stories about employee benefits,
[00:09:37.960]and issues around where COVID-19 was contracted,
[00:09:41.970]and how that impacted the work of employees,
[00:09:45.230]in your research?
[00:09:47.140]The work that we've been doing,
[00:09:48.740]has been just more recently...
[00:09:51.170]we've been trying our best to collect OSHA complaints,
[00:09:54.010]and trying to collect data from actual workers about,
[00:09:57.890]the inadequacies of the safety precautions in these plants,
[00:10:01.440]and so in that work,
[00:10:02.660]we've been coordinating with Nebraska ACLU. So Nebraska ACLU
[00:10:07.240]has been involved in trying to find this kind of information
[00:10:12.550]in the hopes or with the idea,
[00:10:14.650]possibly engaging in a lawsuit.
[00:10:17.810]As at this point it's still you know,
[00:10:20.100]I guess in the process in terms of trying to get a case,
[00:10:23.230]they feel is viable enough,
[00:10:25.040]and has enough concrete information to go forward with,
[00:10:28.880]but that over the last few months,
[00:10:31.090]probably in... by the mid point in the summer into the fall,
[00:10:34.690]our teachers started shifting more to that direction,
[00:10:37.770]trying to get some concrete OSHA complaints,
[00:10:41.230]very specific complaints from these various plants,
[00:10:44.270]to assess if they could be a basis for legal action.
[00:10:48.060]As of right now that's still...
[00:10:50.290]I don't believe anything at this moment has been filed,
[00:10:53.550]but my sense is that we're getting close.
[00:10:55.890]But that's been about midpoint in summer,
[00:10:57.710]to the early part of fall,
[00:10:59.720]that's been a lot of our attention.
[00:11:01.790]There are a lot of different groups,
[00:11:03.160]that are in one way or another,
[00:11:04.780]trying their best to either pressure the union council,
[00:11:07.480]will be pressuring the union council,
[00:11:09.030]or trying to engage in OSHA collection complaints,
[00:11:12.500]or media attention.
[00:11:13.710]So there's a lot of different tactics,
[00:11:16.050]that are being employed to improve the situation.
[00:11:18.950]Sort of taking a step back,
[00:11:20.780]and talking about activism in these communities in general,
[00:11:25.310]can you talk a little bit about like the role of activism?
[00:11:28.690]Well several of the people who were involved in,
[00:11:31.690]let's say organizing car parades,
[00:11:34.120]one of the first things that we did,
[00:11:36.030]was to organize I guess protest marches,
[00:11:38.800]but all in our automobiles.
[00:11:40.780]And there was actually kind of car parade type vigils,
[00:11:44.390]and that's something that we were able to do in Grand Island
[00:11:48.500]and Lexington and in Creek multiple weekends in a row,
[00:11:53.220]and people were able to engage in that pretty quickly,
[00:11:56.900]cause some of the people who are leading these groups,
[00:11:58.470]have already had an experience doing social movement work,
[00:12:01.770]around immigration rights or anti-war or other types of...
[00:12:07.370]I'm just trying to think of the other issues,
[00:12:08.830]I mean it was part of kind of the core issues,
[00:12:10.140]that these individuals have been in,
[00:12:12.160]the ones that took kind of a more leadership role,
[00:12:14.270]in the organization.
[00:12:16.200]So in that sense they already had a background of activism,
[00:12:20.730]the interesting thing with COVID,
[00:12:22.020]is like we have how we do this while keeping you people safe
[00:12:25.220]And so obviously the black lives matter,
[00:12:26.850]we see people masked gathered together now pretty close,
[00:12:30.210]wearing a mask and so forth,
[00:12:31.990]but in April that wasn't something that,
[00:12:34.665]none of us were comfortable in doing,
[00:12:36.660]and we felt that it was another way of going about it,
[00:12:39.590]were cars so we would basically every weekend,
[00:12:45.290]how about four or five weekends in a row?
[00:12:47.130]We would just get together as many cars we could,
[00:12:49.740]in a central location, we have a lead car,
[00:12:52.330]we plaster our automobiles with signs,
[00:12:54.670]in Spanish and in English,
[00:12:56.320]especially in Lexington and Grant Island,
[00:12:58.760]we're talking Creek as well in terms of bilingual signs,
[00:13:02.390]and then we'd have a route,
[00:13:04.160]and we'd just roll through these various communities,
[00:13:08.510]two or three times blaring a horn,
[00:13:11.870]trying to pay attention to these issues,
[00:13:13.360]we come back to our beginning point,
[00:13:15.380]and then speeches would be given via like zoom,
[00:13:18.110]zoom phone no I'm not really great tech savvy,
[00:13:21.470]but being able to just through the cell phone,
[00:13:23.400]into a blow horn?
[00:13:28.661](murmurs) basically what am I trying to say?
[00:13:30.271]Well a blow horn.
[00:13:31.381]Blow horn, blow horn? What is that blow horn,
[00:13:35.392]and I think they started people,
[00:13:36.531]around the surrounding community,
[00:13:37.500]to hear the speech speakers.
[00:13:39.640]And we would have activists leaders,
[00:13:42.230]the son or daughter of a meat packing worker,
[00:13:44.550]sometimes a meat packing worker themselves speak.
[00:13:48.150]And maybe we'd maybe have a price short prayer,
[00:13:53.300]and we would end our day.
[00:13:55.560]Each and every one of those parades,
[00:13:57.410]was proceeded with a reach out to the media,
[00:14:00.310]in the hopes... our kind of central objective,
[00:14:03.040]was to just to get media attention.
[00:14:05.210]To get a story in the Carney hub,
[00:14:08.750]or to get a story I think in Journal Star,
[00:14:10.800]and to get local TV coverage.
[00:14:12.650]And we were... I feel we were quite successful,
[00:14:15.900]in doing that even some National coverage we were to get,
[00:14:18.323]from the Washington Post, from Mother Jones,
[00:14:22.880]these other National publications that did stories,
[00:14:26.330]on Lexington protests,
[00:14:28.130]or on the daughter of a Lexington worker enticing,
[00:14:31.050]or do the story on the daughter of someone,
[00:14:33.040]who's working in Smithfield Creek.
[00:14:35.290]So I was really quite happy,
[00:14:38.100]that at least on that level of objectives,
[00:14:41.460]we were able to achieve that.
[00:14:43.190]And so a lot of attention was brought to and I think,
[00:14:47.730]I think objectively we contributed to that,
[00:14:50.470]in terms of trying create an event,
[00:14:52.470]where there was something to cover,
[00:14:54.310]and then through that actually be interviewed,
[00:14:57.930]and get stories talk about,
[00:14:59.310]why we we're doing what we we're doing.
[00:15:01.870]So we even did one large one in Lincoln,
[00:15:04.440]we did a big car parade in Lincoln,
[00:15:07.670]I'm thinking sometime in August,
[00:15:10.510]that we did that particular event where we brought,
[00:15:12.890]people, activists from all the various communities,
[00:15:14.970]went to Lincoln and we did a parade through town.
[00:15:19.910]Definitely interesting when the larger,
[00:15:23.180]sort of Coastal media like what they choose to cover,
[00:15:26.570]from our place in the country,
[00:15:29.430]and I definitely remember seeing meat packing and COVID,
[00:15:33.820]high up there like on the New York Times front page,
[00:15:36.810]and talking about some of these issues,
[00:15:38.880]and the wider great plants.
[00:15:40.430]But you also bring up a really interesting point,
[00:15:42.330]about how do you protest during a pandemic?
[00:15:46.030]When the pandemic is part of the protest itself,
[00:15:50.810]It's really interesting,
[00:15:51.690]that some of the technology they're using,
[00:15:53.600]and just the creative ideas.
[00:15:55.500]Yeah exactly it was, it was really interesting,
[00:15:58.110]and we were I think pretty serious doing our best to...
[00:16:01.920]okay we wanted people to feel safe so they can come out.
[00:16:04.950]And that sometimes people would in that,
[00:16:08.260]when we worked at our location,
[00:16:09.648]some people would get out of their cars and so forth,
[00:16:11.820]but it was understood no one had to,
[00:16:13.850]they can engage and participate,
[00:16:15.290]without ever leaving their automobile.
[00:16:17.870]And I think for a lot of people that was yeah,
[00:16:19.530]that was pretty important I think it's still important,
[00:16:21.940]even though I recognize with BLM in what's happening,
[00:16:25.560]I understand that the anger and energy to get your point,
[00:16:28.810]no we need to go back maybe go back to what we did before.
[00:16:32.020]And not try to engage in these other methods.
[00:16:35.117]Just the sheer size of them,
[00:16:37.110]strikes you've much bigger challenge,
[00:16:39.200]to replicate what we did in these smaller communities.
[00:16:43.930]What do you hope,
[00:16:44.763]that people take away from some of your research?
[00:16:47.510]Well my hope that what people could take away,
[00:16:50.030]from you know the research that I've done,
[00:16:51.917]and my colleagues have done is well,
[00:16:55.720]right now the hope is that they understand,
[00:16:57.730]that it's still an ongoing situation.
[00:17:00.960]So the editorial that I got published,
[00:17:03.110]in Lincoln Journal Star that I wrote,
[00:17:05.080]that came out a couple of weeks ago,
[00:17:06.650]that, that was the intent of that message,
[00:17:09.830]and it's one that we're continuing to try to do,
[00:17:12.270]but it's a bit more of a challenge now,
[00:17:14.110]because the media attention you know,
[00:17:15.510]Katie makes a good point It's not okay at that moment,
[00:17:17.510]in Nebraska or the Midwest,
[00:17:19.000]we're gonna be paying attention to plants,
[00:17:20.900]but there are other issues that come up,
[00:17:22.790]and so we have a core group,
[00:17:24.810]that are still focused on this issue,
[00:17:26.410]and we continue to think of different ways,
[00:17:28.400]of how to maintain our focus on this issue,
[00:17:34.410]and try to get people's attention,
[00:17:36.083]not to forget about these individuals.
[00:17:38.460]So that's one thing I hope we'll come away from it.
[00:17:42.152]Ideally as the union council meets again,
[00:17:45.830]we'll be working with our allies there,
[00:17:48.720]and States in the State union council,
[00:17:50.750]to try to achieve some legislative changes.
[00:17:54.270]So in particular Senator Tony Vargas,
[00:17:56.932]he's a member, he's a Facebook member,
[00:17:59.340]but he's also participated and spoken in some of our events.
[00:18:02.219]We have like over 630 Facebook friends I guess,
[00:18:06.320]they're members of Solidarity Packing Plant Workers.
[00:18:08.630]So he's a member and so I know definitely,
[00:18:12.170]once the year begins,
[00:18:13.450]we're gonna definitely be engaging with him and his allies,
[00:18:16.940]in the hopes of pushing forward,
[00:18:18.420]some different legislation that can assist these workers,
[00:18:21.200]here in the State and...
[00:18:22.590]or just get the department of labor of Nebraska,
[00:18:26.030]to be more aggressive in bringing more periodic,
[00:18:29.350]engage more periodic inspections to this space.
[00:18:31.870]So hopefully all the work we're doing,
[00:18:34.530]including our research will be a basis,
[00:18:36.180]for those kinds of changes going forward,
[00:18:38.240]because even though Donald Trump says,
[00:18:40.920]we're gonna get the vaccine in November 3rd around that time
[00:18:45.450]I'm not counting so I'm anticipating the virus,
[00:18:48.860]and these challenges are gonna be with us,
[00:18:50.520]well into into the spring of next year.
[00:18:53.300]So some kind of legislative response,
[00:18:55.840]is gonna be necessary then.
[00:18:57.900]So as we've seen you know during this nine months or so,
[00:19:02.270]that we've been involved in this pandemic,
[00:19:05.550]we've seen certain places increase their level of protection
[00:19:12.380]and their process in protecting people,
[00:19:15.910]and their guidelines around COVID,
[00:19:17.680]have you seen some of those guidelines move away?
[00:19:21.920]I'm thinking of certain States,
[00:19:23.360]that have started to lift restrictions.
[00:19:25.190]or certain areas that have started to lift restrictions,
[00:19:28.120]I know Omaha is talking about,
[00:19:30.520]will they extend their mask mandate any longer?
[00:19:34.220]Have you seen any of those restrictions,
[00:19:37.500]I guess step back in the meat packing plant,
[00:19:40.940]or are they still at the point,
[00:19:44.210]where they said that they would be at?
[00:19:47.520]We know that like mask wearing became much more,
[00:19:50.430]it still... still remains a requirement,
[00:19:52.960]there are dividers that were established,
[00:19:54.750]in many of these plants,
[00:19:55.970]so there were some steps taken by the plant,
[00:19:58.760]but I do know that like line speeds,
[00:20:01.480]they have ratcheted up over these last few weeks,
[00:20:05.120]maybe even faster to where they were before,
[00:20:07.290]is meat packing...
[00:20:09.020]is this plant trying their best to catch up,
[00:20:10.590]and ensure that they meet that market demand,
[00:20:13.160]for their product.
[00:20:14.210]So that hasn't been a...
[00:20:15.820]I view that as a stepping back.
[00:20:18.280]There really never was too much success,
[00:20:21.340]in reducing crowding in the plants,
[00:20:24.660]so one of the issues that we were concerned about were like,
[00:20:28.680]luckily spaces where people come together before their shift
[00:20:33.060]and change into what they need to wear for that for the day.
[00:20:35.950]And there hasn't really been much progress,
[00:20:38.070]in terms of trying to mitigate that.
[00:20:39.840]So that never really was addressed,
[00:20:41.370]so I guess that's still remains a problem.
[00:20:45.070]The... so beyond the line speed,
[00:20:48.290]and the beyond the continued challenge,
[00:20:50.240]of actually trying to reduce the amount of crowding,
[00:20:53.000]that happens whether it's during the lunch hour,
[00:20:55.530]or during the shift changes,
[00:20:58.240]that remains an issue and a problem,
[00:21:00.600]that never really has been addressed from the start.
[00:21:04.650]So have you seen connections to your advocacy work,
[00:21:08.438]with this group and other groups that you've advocated for,
[00:21:13.340]in Latin America or other groups,
[00:21:14.980]that you've looked at in Latin America?
[00:21:18.080]The issue of the cooperate is one that,
[00:21:21.450]that we discussed and I brought up as well,
[00:21:23.873]that the connections in terms of various caravans.
[00:21:28.260]So obviously there's...if you recall in 2018 election,
[00:21:31.160]there was the real scary caravan,
[00:21:33.030]that was coming at the U S Mexican border.
[00:21:35.350]But that's a different type of caravan,
[00:21:37.640]they're having caravans for years now in Latin America,
[00:21:40.500]where over human rights abuse,
[00:21:43.360]is associated with the war on drugs,
[00:21:45.430]over the mothers and fathers trying to find out,
[00:21:50.160]where their sons and daughters have disappeared,
[00:21:52.790]on their trek to the United States,
[00:21:55.430]so last five years has been a really vibrant movement,
[00:21:58.950]of mothers primarily who've been trying to bring attention
[00:22:02.750]to the fact that they've lost loved ones,
[00:22:05.410]and they don't know where they lost them,
[00:22:07.560]cause as we all know that the trek is such a dangerous one,
[00:22:11.037]and a difficult one for many,
[00:22:12.480]especially those traveling from Central America.
[00:22:14.910]So those caravans were ones that I thought of,
[00:22:18.620]and others talked about,
[00:22:19.480]you talked about as being a model,
[00:22:21.940]and they also had to be a models in the United States,
[00:22:23.850]as well in which car parades were already happening,
[00:22:26.750]around other issues.
[00:22:28.240]So in that sense there's a connection,
[00:22:30.890]that I think is relevant.
[00:22:32.440]The leaders of these organizations like Gladys Godinez,
[00:22:36.670]she's a former student of mine,
[00:22:38.410]she lives and works in Lexington.
[00:22:40.610]She herself is an immigrant from Guatemala,
[00:22:42.980]and she's very familiar with I think the kind of activism,
[00:22:46.890]that's associated with Latin American politics.
[00:22:49.040]So I think these individuals still have connections,
[00:22:51.610]and links to communities in Latin America,
[00:22:54.870]So in that sense you could see there's influence there.
[00:22:58.520]But probably the biggest one would be the use of caravans,
[00:23:01.330]they use that kind of presence,
[00:23:04.000]that has been done for a while in Latin America,
[00:23:06.560]without pandemic forcing it,
[00:23:08.710]that it made sense that that would be relevant and helpful,
[00:23:12.030]in this situation.
[00:23:13.750]The one piece that I may wanna add is,
[00:23:16.180]I know it's quite cliche but you know,
[00:23:18.900]I should've added it to that question regarding,
[00:23:20.590]where I learned the extent that,
[00:23:22.500]a small group of people can actually do Jewel law.
[00:23:26.793]The extent that five, six, 10, 15 individuals,
[00:23:30.880]if they're committed to a particular objective,
[00:23:34.260]can collectively come together,
[00:23:37.790]and implement that particular plan.
[00:23:40.150]And that's something that was... it was important,
[00:23:43.140]or interesting to see that cliche of a few people,
[00:23:46.780]can do so much yeah there are definitely some truth to that.
[00:23:51.174]And I think that was born out by the work that was done,
[00:23:55.150]in licensing Grand Island, Creek and Lincoln.
[00:23:57.660]We're not talking about hundreds of people,
[00:24:00.060]and in fact the very first meeting we had,
[00:24:02.210]we had 30, 35 individuals,
[00:24:05.010]and that kind of got shrugging down to like a courtroom,
[00:24:07.170]10 to 15 that were central to organizing so much of this.
[00:24:12.480]So that was definitely pretty cool to see,
[00:24:16.710]that that's a true thing that can happen.
[00:24:20.710]Has it been a challenge to organize people,
[00:24:24.240]around this topic? Given some people may be sick,
[00:24:29.060]or might be resistant,
[00:24:32.020]because they're challenging their employer,
[00:24:34.340]to stand up for this issue?
[00:24:38.650]That's a really good question.
[00:24:39.900]In terms of the workers it was you know,
[00:24:43.710]our connections with them as I mentioned earlier,
[00:24:45.893]were through family connections,
[00:24:47.930]and then through the union itself.
[00:24:51.160]The workers itself consistently there was a fear,
[00:24:55.130]they expressed to us,
[00:24:56.610]about their ability to be public about it,
[00:25:00.230]and the possibility they could risk their job,
[00:25:03.020]risk losing shifts, hours whatever it may be.
[00:25:06.140]So I think from early on,
[00:25:07.410]that was already understood as a real challenge,
[00:25:10.960]that we probably weren't gonna be able to overcome.
[00:25:14.660]But as long as we continue to get feedback from workers,
[00:25:19.050]who felt and did express us,
[00:25:20.750]while we were organizing these parades,
[00:25:22.630]that they wanted to see more,
[00:25:23.760]and that they felt it would work,
[00:25:25.440]they thought that it had an impact.
[00:25:27.690]And that was kind of our basis,
[00:25:29.680]just started getting a pulse of what was happening,
[00:25:31.840]in those plans also kind of getting a sense from them,
[00:25:34.030]if they thought what we were doing was important,
[00:25:37.440]maybe we should keep doing.
[00:25:38.810]And so as long as we got that, that sense we kept doing,
[00:25:41.970]we kept organizing, we kept trying to find OSHA complaints,
[00:25:45.130]that might be relevant for a legal case,
[00:25:47.710]reaching out to state senators,
[00:25:49.650]talking to the media, et cetera.
[00:25:51.960]So yeah that's an excellent question,
[00:25:55.440]it was an obstacle that I think even to this day,
[00:25:58.400]it's been a challenging one,
[00:26:00.070]just given the vulnerability of these individuals,
[00:26:02.020]that are working in these plants.
[00:26:03.840]If people would like to learn more,
[00:26:05.300]about your advocacy work with meat packers in Nebraska,
[00:26:08.900]and on the plants where would you suggest that they go?
[00:26:12.200]Well there are a number of different sources,
[00:26:14.050]I think we have our own Facebook page,
[00:26:16.520]and Solidarity with Packing Plant Workers,
[00:26:18.500]so someone could just Google on that that organization,
[00:26:21.380]you should be able to find it pretty quickly,
[00:26:23.590]we are part of a much larger coalition of groups,
[00:26:27.480]that are also engaged so Nebraska Appleseed,
[00:26:31.520]The Center for Rural Affairs Children in Smithfield,
[00:26:34.960]which is our own kind of separate group,
[00:26:36.390]that we work together Heartland Workers Center,
[00:26:39.070]in Brassicae ACLU.
[00:26:40.730]I mean all of those groups that I listed,
[00:26:42.540]you can find them by Googling them,
[00:26:44.960]and you should be able to find information,
[00:26:46.850]about all the different tactics and information,
[00:26:49.660]about what the condition of these plants are today.
[00:26:52.710]I will also add the Brassicae AFLCIO in the USW in Nebraska.
[00:26:57.450]Also a pretty good source of information.
[00:27:01.240]Dr.Will Aviles thank you for joining us today.
[00:27:04.120]Thank you for having me great talking to you.
[00:27:07.100]Thanks very much.
[00:27:08.760]We'd like to thank Will Aviles,
[00:27:10.339]for talking with us today,
[00:27:12.100]find all of our short grapefruits talks and interviews,
[00:27:15.300]as videos and podcasts at,
[00:27:17.520]go dot unl dot edu slash gp lectures.
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