Elected officials and progressive organizers called out a major Iowa employer they say is directly contributing to higher food prices in the US.
Tyson Foods, which operates several large meatpacking plants in Iowa, was taken to task Friday for, among other things, “price gouging” of meat products.
“Corporate gains are all done on the backs of your workers in your community and your grocers,” said Iowa Rep. Timi Brown-Powers. “We have people at the state level and the federal level saying it’s because of the current administration. It’s simply not true.”
In 2020, she and other elected officials pressed Tyson on whether it was keeping its workforce safe from COVID-19 transmission. The company only relented and closed down the plant after hundreds of workers called in sick, fearful of catching the virus, and when that pressure made national news.
“That right there highlighted where the importance was: The importance was on profit, not on the workers,” Brown-Powers said.
Later, when legislators asked state and federal regulators to look into Tyson, regulators seemingly deferred to the company, she said.
“It was already bought and paid for,” Brown-Powers said.
That deference to large corporations that control ever-growing segments of an industry is a problem that is now manifesting in higher prices and food insecurity under the guise of inflation, speakers said.
“It used to be, back when I was young, corporations fought for their workers and the American people,” said Sue Dinsdale, executive director of Iowa Citizen Action Network. “And now they’re just fighting for their corporate profits.”
It’s an idea that has gained traction at the federal level: President Joe Biden has floated the idea of price-gouging on gasoline, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed to take up such a bill last month, saying she believed there was “a major exploitation of the consumer” happening.
Even Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican, has repeatedly called for more transparency in cattle markets.
Dinsdale mentioned bills that were working their way through the House of Representatives that would prevent price-gouging and other behavior driving up prices.
“We’re calling on Representative Hinson to stand on the side of her constituents and not her big corporate donors,” Dinsdale said.
But Sam Blatt, an organizer with Unrig Our Economy, said Hinson instead “supports legislation in (Tyson’s) favor” in the form of tax breaks and other favorable laws “while hardworking families struggle.”
A Tyson spokesperson rejected the idea that price hikes were solely profit-driven, pointing to statements from Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen that “demand and supply is largely driving inflation,” and pointed out that increases in packers’ costs, like livestock feed, transportation and fuel, all play a role.
“As with nearly every other product, basic market forces drive meat prices,” Tyson spokesperson Gary Mickelson said. “Our company, which does not sell directly to consumers, is working hard to combat inflation by improving our staffing and productivity. ”
Tyson wasn’t the only company in Unrig Our Economy’s crosshairs. Simultaneous events were happening across the country, targeting oil companies like Exxon in New York, Marathon in Ohio, Shell in Texas and Chevron in Arizona. Other food companies were targeted as well, including Kellogg’s in Nebraska and Land O’Lakes in California.
There was also Eli Lilly, a pharmaceutical company targeted in Indiana, because of the rising price of prescription drugs. That forces people to choose between groceries and treating medical conditions, said Chris Schwartz, a Black Hawk County Supervisor and state director of Americans for Democratic Action.
“That decision has only become that much harder now, because the cost of both is going up,” he said.
By Amie Rivers
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