search
Sections List
American Journal News

Some meat plant workers ‘worried’ about safety as factories are forced to reopen

‘They designate them as essential workers and then treat them as disposable,’ Joe Biden said.

By Associated Press - May 04, 2020
Share
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem delivers her first State of the State address at the South Dakota state Capitol in Pierre, S.D., Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. (Ryan Hermens/Rapid City Journal via AP)

A South Dakota pork processing plant took its first steps toward reopening Monday after being shuttered for over two weeks because of a coronavirus outbreak that infected more than 800 employees.

Employees reporting for work in Smithfield Foods’ ground pork department filed through a tent where they were screened for fever and other signs of COVID-19. Some said they felt the measures Smithfield has taken would protect them from another virus outbreak, while others were not confident that infections could be halted in a crowded plant.

Lydia Toby said she was “kind of worried” as she entered the plant before 6 a.m. for her first shift in over two weeks. Managers met employees in her department Friday and explained they had installed dividers on the production line and would require everyone to wear masks.

“I think it’s going to be OK,” Toby said.

In the wake of an executive order from Donald Trump ordering meat plants to remain open, Arkansas-based Tyson Foods was also resuming “limited production” Monday at its pork plant in Logansport, Indiana, where nearly 900 employees tested positive. And the JBS pork plant in Worthington, Minnesota — just an hour east of Smithfield’s South Dakota plant — planned a partial reopening on Wednesday.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Monday called meatpacking plants — along with nursing homes — “the most dangerous places there are right now.” He called for greater protections for meatpacking workers, as well as a $13-an-hour pay premium.

“They designate them as essential workers and then treat them as disposable,” Biden said, on a conference call about protecting essential workers, such as meatpacking workers, that was organized by the League of United Latin American Citizens.

Virginia-based Smithfield is offering COVID-19 testing to all employees and their family members, according to a text message sent to employees. The message told employees to report to a local high school to be tested. Gov. Kristi Noem said employees aren’t required to undergo tests before returning to work, though it’s strongly encouraged. Noem’s health commissioner, Kim Malsam-Rysdon, said it was Smithfield’s decision to make the tests optional.

Smithfield didn’t respond to requests for comment.

About 250 employees were told to report to work on Monday, according to the union that represents them. The plant employs about 3,700 workers and produces roughly 5% of the nation’s pork.

Salaheldin Ahmed, who works in a department that has not yet reopened, said he was called in by plant management to look at changes.

“They fixed a lot of things,” he said, describing how workers would be spread apart where possible.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report Friday said more than 4,900 workers at meat and poultry processing facilities have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, including 20 who died. Not all states provided data.

The CDC researchers cited risks including difficulties with physical distancing and hygiene, and crowded living and transportation conditions. They suggested enhanced disinfection and that workers get regular screening for the virus, more space from co-workers, and training materials in their native languages. Many meatpacking employees are immigrants; a CDC report on the Smithfield outbreak found that employees there spoke about 40 different languages.

The United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents most beef and pork workers and about one-third of poultry workers nationwide, has called for stricter measures than the CDC’s, including mandating that workers be spaced 6 feet apart on production lines. It has appealed to governors for help enforcing worker safety rules. The union also wants to get rid of waivers that allow some plants to operate at faster speeds.

As plants warily reopen or others operate at diminished capacity with many workers staying home sick or in fear, it’s unclear Trump’s order will guarantee an unbroken supply of meat.

Tyson Foods reported record meat sales in the first quarter but warned investors Monday that it faces continued production slowdowns. Company officials said it expected lower productivity “in the short term until local infection rates begin to decrease.”

Zach Medhaug, a maintenance employee at Tyson’s pork plant in Waterloo, Iowa, said he will feel comfortable returning to work when the plant reopens, even as he fears that one of his closest colleagues may soon die from the coronavirus.

Jose Ayala, 44, is in critical condition on a ventilator at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics after catching the virus a month ago. Medhaug has been calling Ayala, who is medically paralyzed but may still be able to hear, encouraging him to keep fighting.

Medhaug tested positive himself for the coronavirus on April 20. He said he had mild symptoms and expects to return to work later this week at the plant, which suspended production April 22. Medhaug said Tyson has made key safety changes, such as vowing to enforce rather than just encourage social distancing and providing employees with masks instead of telling them to bring their own.

“That’s a huge step,” he said. “The people returning, I see them having a better chance of not getting it at all.”


AJ News
Get the latest news here first.

Tai News

Newsletter
Read More
AJ News
Latest
Republican David McCormick invests millions in website that platforms Holocaust denial

Republican David McCormick invests millions in website that platforms Holocaust denial

By Jesse Valentine - February 09, 2024
Lawmakers will again take up bills expanding, tightening gun laws

Lawmakers will again take up bills expanding, tightening gun laws

By Annmarie Timmins, New Hampshire Bulletin - January 31, 2024
UAW delivers rousing presidential endorsement for Biden over ‘scab’ Trump

UAW delivers rousing presidential endorsement for Biden over ‘scab’ Trump

By Ashley Murray, States Newsroom - January 24, 2024
Republicans Sam Brown and Jeff Gunter sling mud in Nevada senate primary

Republicans Sam Brown and Jeff Gunter sling mud in Nevada senate primary

By Jesse Valentine - January 17, 2024
A Young Texas Woman Almost Died Due To The Texas Abortion Bans – Now She’s Battling To Save Other Women

A Young Texas Woman Almost Died Due To The Texas Abortion Bans – Now She’s Battling To Save Other Women

By Bonnie Fuller - January 10, 2024
Health care legislation preview: Maryland advocates want to focus on access, patients in 2024 session

Health care legislation preview: Maryland advocates want to focus on access, patients in 2024 session

By Danielle J. Brown, Maryland Matters - January 08, 2024
How GOP senate hopefuls try to excuse the  January 6 insurrection

How GOP senate hopefuls try to excuse the  January 6 insurrection

By Jesse Valentine - January 05, 2024
NH lawmakers will be taking up major voting bills this year. Here are some to watch for.

NH lawmakers will be taking up major voting bills this year. Here are some to watch for.

By Ethan DeWitt, New Hampshire Bulletin - January 04, 2024
Republican US Senate candidates want to make Trump’s tax cuts permanent 

Republican US Senate candidates want to make Trump’s tax cuts permanent 

By Jesse Valentine - December 22, 2023
Rand Paul went all in on the Kentucky governor’s race. It didn’t work.

Rand Paul went all in on the Kentucky governor’s race. It didn’t work.

By - December 15, 2023
Texas governor and attorney general do little to curb state’s chemical plant crisis

Texas governor and attorney general do little to curb state’s chemical plant crisis

By Jesse Valentine - December 08, 2023
Likely GOP Senate candidate Eric Hovde proposed tax hike for poorer workers and retirees

Likely GOP Senate candidate Eric Hovde proposed tax hike for poorer workers and retirees

By Jesse Valentine - December 07, 2023
Whitmer signs specific criminal penalties for assaulting health care workers into law

Whitmer signs specific criminal penalties for assaulting health care workers into law

By Anna Liz Nichols, Michigan Advance - December 06, 2023
105 Republicans voted to expel Santos for things Trump has also done

105 Republicans voted to expel Santos for things Trump has also done

By Jesse Valentine - December 05, 2023
For Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, another Trump term is another chance to kill Obamacare

For Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, another Trump term is another chance to kill Obamacare

By Jesse Valentine - December 04, 2023
Florida Sen. Rick Scott backs Donald Trump in revived push to repeal Obamacare

Florida Sen. Rick Scott backs Donald Trump in revived push to repeal Obamacare

By Jesse Valentine - November 30, 2023
Tate Reeves took donations from power company that hiked customer rates

Tate Reeves took donations from power company that hiked customer rates

By Jesse Valentine - November 06, 2023
Daniel Cameron ran on depoliticizing the Kentucky AG’s office. He made it more political.

Daniel Cameron ran on depoliticizing the Kentucky AG’s office. He made it more political.

By Jesse Valentine - November 03, 2023
Republican operatives sound every alarm on current trajectory of 2023 governor’s race

Republican operatives sound every alarm on current trajectory of 2023 governor’s race

By Adam Ganucheau, Mississippi Today - October 24, 2023
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott floats building a wall on the Oklahoma border

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott floats building a wall on the Oklahoma border

By Jesse Valentine - February 22, 2024
More than 48,600 18-year-olds are registered to vote in Ohio, a 35% increase from late August

More than 48,600 18-year-olds are registered to vote in Ohio, a 35% increase from late August

By Megan Henry, Ohio Capital Journal - February 22, 2024
Not if, but when: Parents of slain Parkland students urge Utah lawmakers to pass school safety bill

Not if, but when: Parents of slain Parkland students urge Utah lawmakers to pass school safety bill

By Kyle Dunphey, Utah News Dispatch - February 21, 2024
Key takeaways from Monday’s U.S. Senate Ohio Republican primary debate

Key takeaways from Monday’s U.S. Senate Ohio Republican primary debate

By Nick Evans, Ohio Capital Journal - February 20, 2024
Human, financial costs of gun violence are growing dramatically, health care group says

Human, financial costs of gun violence are growing dramatically, health care group says

By Marty Schladen, Ohio Capital Journal - February 20, 2024
Mark Robinson gun raffle raises campaign finance questions

Mark Robinson gun raffle raises campaign finance questions

By Jesse Valentine - February 16, 2024