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IT professional-turned-community organizer educating meatpacking workers during pandemic

Alejandro Ortiz is using his parents' experience to help keep other workers safe and healthy.

DES MOINES, Iowa — A young Iowa man is using his family's experience to help others during the coronavirus pandemic

Alejandro Ortiz is a 25-year-old information technology worker in central Iowa. His parents both work for meatpacking plants in western Iowa. 

As plants shut down across the nation, he saw a need to educate people in his community.

"When I had some more time being home and such, I realized that I had a privilege that my parents didn't have," Ortiz said. "I had the opportunity to self-isolate and I used that opportunity to bring a voice to those who didn't have that."

Ortiz has been educating plant workers and their families about how deadly the virus can be and what rights workers have to protect themselves. Often, he's helping people he's know for years. 

"People aren't aware of what's going on in the industry," Ortiz said. "At the end of the day, is that surprising? Maybe not."

He's been organizing for two months and in that time, Ortiz has built a network of other children of immigrants who are helping give workers a voice. He said this is crucial right now because "it is a very powerful industry and one where the workers are incredibly afraid to speak up."

"And if they don't have that voice and the community isn't there to listen, maybe they don't understand what's going on, a lot of this continues on."

Ortiz hopes his work brings changes for people like his parents and friends, and he said he knows where to focus his effort. 

"You know I can't go door-to-door," Ortiz said. 

"But I think that we are able to, and what I'm going to work towards, is tackling these plants by identifying leaders and encouraging them to come together. And it only takes a few people to create change."

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