In this file:
· As coronavirus loomed, Worthington pork plant refused to slow down [MN pork op]
· 67 COVID-19 cases reported at JBS plant in Butchertown [KY pork op]
· Test Iowa to offer coronavirus tests to all JBS employees [IA pork op]
· Coronavirus to Slow U.S. Meat Production for Months, CEO Says
· JBS to donate A$188m to bolster COVID-19 efforts
· Tin Aye, A JBS Employee And New Grandmother, Dies From Coronavirus [CO beef op]
· More than 700 new cases of coronavirus reported after testing at meatpacking plants in Amarillo region [TX beef op]
As coronavirus loomed, Worthington pork plant refused to slow down
JBS has made strides since shutting down, but workers say it was slow to react
By Adam Belz, Elizabeth Flores and Greg Stanley, Star Tribune (MN)
May 16, 2020
WORTHINGTON, Minn. – A week before JBS idled its pork plant here, it was clear that meatpacking plants had become clusters of the virus.
Sixty miles away, the Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls had shut down with nearly 300 workers testing positive for COVID-19. Plants in Iowa, Pennsylvania and Colorado also closed because of outbreaks.
But until April 20, JBS was running the Worthington plant, which can slaughter as many as 21,000 hogs a day, at full tilt.
Van-loads of workers commuted from Sioux Falls every day, some of them apparently sick. Employees skipped shifts out of illness or fear. Dozens of workers staged a walkout over lunch to demand that the company slow production lines. The plant’s head of human resources abruptly resigned.
“That was my rub against the company. Come on guys, there’s a trend here,” said Matt Utecht, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 663, which claims 1,850 workers at the plant as members.
“You could see in advance how these plants were dropping, one at a time,” he said. “The problem was, at these plants that were closing, they weren’t making any changes. They were just running full throttle and business as usual.”
It’s a story that played out at meatpacking plants across the United States: Despite mounting evidence that meat processing workers were especially vulnerable to the spread of the virus, plant managers kept lines running fast. Not until they faced rampant absenteeism and case counts in the hundreds did they scale back production.
Now, roughly a quarter of the nation’s hog slaughterhouse capacity is down, and hog farmers across the country are either euthanizing pigs or thinking about it. JBS in Worthington and Smithfield in Sioux Falls, two of the largest buyers of Minnesota hogs and together representing nearly one-tenth of the nation’s pork production capacity, have reopened but are far from full strength.
About 630 workers at JBS in Worthington have tested positive for COVID-19. One, a man in his 60s with underlying conditions, died from it. As a result of the outbreak, Nobles County now has the third-highest number of test-positive COVID-19 cases in Minnesota, after Hennepin and Stearns Counties.
JBS USA, which owns the plant in Worthington, is the American arm of Brazilian meat giant JBS S.A. The company has made major changes to improve the safety at the Worthington site, especially since the shutdown.
Plexiglass barriers have been constructed between workers on production lines, in the plant cafeteria and even in hallways with heavy traffic. Temperature screening at the plant entrance, vigorous daily sanitation, personal protective equipment including face shields and masks and ubiquitous hand sanitizer stations are now the norm, workers say.
Cameron Bruett, a JBS spokesman, said workers have been paid a $4 hourly bonus since April 20. And anyone over 60, pregnant, on dialysis or receiving cancer treatment — a group that collectively is nearly 10% of the workforce — has been placed on leave with full pay and benefits, he said.
Asked about the vans of workers arriving from Sioux Falls, Bruett said “we currently do not have commuting incentives for people who drive from Sioux Falls,” and before the shutdown of the JBS plant, those commuters were interviewed and “anyone living with a Smithfield employee was put out on paid leave for 14 days.”
But in interviews with a dozen meatpacking workers and their spouses last week in Worthington, several themes emerged. They believe the company downplayed the threat of the virus. They say its spread was accelerated by employees commuting from Sioux Falls in JBS-provided transportation. And JBS’ policies on COVID-19 sick pay and returning to work are applied unevenly, with many fearing that sick people are still going to work.
Maria Echeverria, who works on the second shift and has been at the plant for five years, said managers insisted for days that only one employee was sick with COVID-19, even while it was clear to the workers that more than 30 had it.
“They weren’t giving us any information,” Echeverria said of the time before the shutdown.
Conditions were bad enough, Echeverria said, that she helped organize a walkout on April 16. About 60 workers left the plant during lunch to demand the plant close, or at least slow down, she said.
“We wanted them to slow down the lines because it was impossible to practice social distancing,” Echeverria said. “They refused to do anything.”
Echeverria has not been back to the plant since April 17. She’s been on leave without pay for the last two weeks, but she said she won’t return until she feels safe.
“People who are sick are still coming to work,” she said. “Quite frankly, I’m afraid.”
Paleh, a woman from Burma who is Karen by ethnicity, said she and her husband moved to Worthington in 2008 so he could work at the plant. He makes $18.60 per hour deboning hams and they have four children.
She and her husband, and three of their kids, are sick with COVID-19, she said. She asked that her last name not be used out of fear that her husband might lose his job.
“They did not stop working,” said the woman, of the weeks before the shutdown. “Supervisors told them ‘Nobody has coronavirus. You don’t have to worry. Keep working.’ ”
Her husband eventually tested positive on May 5. Someone from the plant called in recent days to ask him to return to work.
“I told the receptionist who called us, ‘I can’t let my husband go back to work and spread out the disease to people,’ ” Paleh said.
Adding to her anxiety, she is required to call into the company every day her husband is sick to avoid disciplinary action, including possible termination, she said. Yet the human resources department doesn’t necessarily answer the phone.
“I tried to call them today but nobody answered,” she said.
One employee, a 66-year old man named Jesus, said he felt the company did try to keep workers safe at the plant. First it provided hand sanitizer and sent sick workers home, he said, before it ultimately installed plexiglass barriers and started screening employees.
“JBS did everything possible,” he said.
Jesus, who declined to give his last name, said the plant took his temperature and it was running high. He left work and quarantined himself in a small empty trailer he owns a few miles from work and learned two days later he had the virus. For five days he was severely ill — hot with a fever, weak, passing blood in his stool. At one point he reached for his bathtub as he was standing up, lost consciousness and spent hours passed out on his bathroom floor.
“I called my son so he would know where I was in case I didn’t answer the phone,” he said.
Many of the workers who spoke to the Star Tribune said they were frustrated that the company hasn’t been talking with them, checking on them or sharing more information about when it would be safe for them to return to work. There is confusion over their pay.
Several workers said they were worried they had lost an advocate when Len Bakken, the plant’s head of human resources, suddenly quit in the days before the shutdown...
67 COVID-19 cases reported at JBS plant in Butchertown
Valerie Chinn, WDRB (KY)
May 15, 2020
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The state health department confirms there are now 67 cases of COVID-19 at the JBS meat processing plant on Story Avenue in Louisville.
That's up from 57 last week, and includes one employee who died. That person's name hasn't been released.
JBS says nationwide, the company and Pilgrim's Pride Corporation announced an investment of more than $200 million to supports its team members and local communities. JBS is a majority shareholder of Pilgrim's Pride.
"We recognize our responsibility as a food company during this crisis and we have continuously evolved our operations, based on the latest available guidance from experts, to improve our coronavirus preventive measures," said Andre Nogueira, CEO of JBS USA.
"We have already invested more than $100 million to enhance safeguards for our workforce and more than $50 million to reward our team members with thank-you bonuses. Today, we are also excited to reaffirm our long-standing commitment to the rural towns and cities we call home across America."
The companies are also investing in ultraviolet germicidal air sanitation and plasma air technology to try and stop potential viruses in plant ventilation and air purification systems.
A thousand employees have been hired for around-the-clock sanitation and cleaning.
JBS USA and Pilgrim’s says they've adopted more than $100 million in enhanced safety measures to keep their workplaces and team members safe, including increased sanitation and disinfection efforts, health screening and temperature checking, team member training, physical distancing, reduced line speeds and increased availability of PPE.
The companies say employees of most vulnerable populations have been removed from the facilities with full pay and benefits. Those people make up about 10 percent of its workforce.
"I could not be more proud of how our team members have responded to this challenging time," Nogueira said...
Test Iowa to offer coronavirus tests to all JBS employees
by Romelo Styles, KTVO (MO)
May 15th 2020
OTTUMWA — On day three of testing at the Test Iowa site in Ottumwa, Wapello County Emergency Management director Tim Richmond made some news.
Some big news, JBS employees will now be immediately eligible for tests.
Meat packing packing plants across the Midwest have been hot spots for the virus.
And speculation around Ottumwa is that the recent spike in local cases is related to JBS.
"The governor wants to make sure that we offer the resources specifically to some of those high risk areas so that's why they have the specific access code. To make sure we offer them the best surveillance possible to keep their employees safe. And to keep the facility running," Richmond said.
KTVO spoke to JBS management in early May after the public began to express concerns about worker safety .
Cameron Bruett, head of corporate affairs...
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Coronavirus to Slow U.S. Meat Production for Months, CEO Says
Head of the biggest U.S. beef producer says JBS is revamping operations and has hired 1,000 workers to do extra cleaning
By Jacob Bunge, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ)
May 15, 2020
The coronavirus will likely hamper U.S. meat production for months, as new safety measures and reduced staffing slow plant operations, said the head of the biggest U.S. beef producer.
JBS USA Holdings Inc., which slaughters 23% of the country’s cattle and produces nearly one-fifth of its pork, is revamping plant operations to space workers farther apart while about 10% of its workforce has been sent home because of their higher risk from Covid-19, Chief Executive Andre Nogueira said...
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JBS to donate A$188m to bolster COVID-19 efforts
Beef Central (Australia)
May 18, 2020
GLOBAL meat processor JBS has announced a donation worth the equivalent of about A$188 million to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic in the communities in which its employees live and work around the world.
About 60 percent of the donation will be directed into efforts in Brazil, with most of the remainder to be distributed in JBS communities in the United States. Both have been impacted by COVID-19 infections among JBS meat plant staff. To date, no infections have been reported in JBS beef or sheepmeat plants in Australia.
The donation was announced on Friday by JBS Global chief executive Gilberto Tomazoni during a first quarter financial results briefing.
“The world is experiencing an unprecedented challenge as we collectively face the coronavirus pandemic,” Mr Tomazoni said.
“JBS is committed to making a positive impact in the lives of people and supporting the communities where we live and work,” he said.
The company’s initiative will be divided into three fronts, the company said: public health, social assistance and scientific research and development.
“Our social responsibility investment will extend to all regions of the globe where we are present and will be overseen by an advisory committee comprised of expert medical advisors and audited by Grant Thornton, which waived its fees to participate in the program,” Mr Tomazoni said.
“JBS is dedicated to doing its best in this challenging environment and to continuing to safely operate our more than 400 production units and offices worldwide,” he said.
“Our culture of operational excellence, experienced team, global presence, diversified production and product platform, and our more than 275,000 customers provide us with a clear opportunity to be a part of the solution to this global pandemic.”
“We are confident that this moment will eventually pass and that our response to the adversity we face today will define our company going forward. When this is over, we will move on, knowing that we have done our best to protect the health and safety of our team members, that we have fulfilled our mission to feed the world during the most challenging moment of our generation, and that we have stood side-by-side with society when we were needed most.”
The portion of the donation directed to the US will support...
Tin Aye, A JBS Employee And New Grandmother, Dies From Coronavirus
May 18, 2020
GREELEY, Colo. (CBS4) – Tin Aye, a woman who worked at the JBS meatpacking plant in Greeley, has died from coronavirus. It’s the eighth reported death of an employee there at the facility due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The woman was a JBS employee for over a decade and became sick in March.
The union says she was taken to a hospital on March 29 and immediately put on a ventilator.
She became a grandmother the day before that when her daughter, who was also sick from COVID-19, had to have an emergency C-section...
more, including video report [0:38 min.]
More than 700 new cases of coronavirus reported after testing at meatpacking plants in Amarillo region
By Juan Pablo Garnham, The Texas Tribune
via Victoria Advocate (TX) - May 17, 2020
More than 700 new coronavirus cases were reported in the Amarillo region Saturday, as results from targeted testing at meatpacking plants came in.
According to the office of the governor, a surge response team was deployed in Amarillo on May 4 to survey high-risk locations and test workers at meatpacking plants. The Texas Panhandle, where a workforce of Hispanics and immigrants power several meatpacking plants, is home to the highest rates of infection in the state.
“As Texas continues ramping up its testing capabilities, there will be an increase in positive cases as the state targets the most high-risk areas: nursing homes, meatpacking plants and jails,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement. “By immediately deploying resources and supplies to these high risk areas, we will identify the positive cases, isolate the individuals and ensure any outbreak is quickly contained.”
In a press release Saturday, the governor’s office indicated plants with widespread outbreaks have temporarily shut down for thorough disinfection.
At a Tyson Foods plant just outside of Amarillo, all 3,587 employees were tested, according to High Plains Public Radio. The plant is “undergoing additional sanitation and cleaning” during the weekend and plans to operate on Monday, according to the company.
The Amarillo region includes two counties. Potter County reported 618 new cases on Saturday bringing its total to 2,080, while Randall County reported 116 new cases for a total of 593. Moore County, which has the highest rate of cases per 1,000 residents in Texas and is north of Amarillo, added 4 new cases on Saturday. In total, the three counties accounted for 738 of the 1,801 new cases reported on Saturday.
Across the country, the coronavirus has spread easily in meatpacking plants, where workers typically stand shoulder to shoulder on fast-moving butchering lines. More than a dozen have been forced to shut down temporarily after surges in infections and deaths tied to those facilities. The processing plants, including those in Texas, have scrambled to ramp up health and safety precautions, providing masks and eye protection to workers and placing plastic dividers in some areas.
In Moore County, a JBS Beef plant has seen several cases and one death. On Wednesday, the company reversed course and accepted the offer from the state to test employees in their facilities.
Workers at JBS and family members of JBS employees who have been infected previously told The Texas Tribune that plant management was slow to acknowledge when workers began testing positive, and those who come in contact with the sick are not always informed of their exposure...