- Title: 'Elbow to elbow:' meat plant workers fall ill, walk off jobs
- Date: 13th April 2020
- Summary: GREELEY, COLORADO, UNITED STATES (APRIL 9, 2020) (REUTERS) (SOUNDBITE) (English) DAUGHTER OF SAUL SANCHEZ, 52-YEAR-OLD BEATRIZ SANCHEZ RANGEL, SAYING: "So it was, he was checked into the hospital March 24th and then, after that, didn't see him again." EXTERIOR OF JBS TRUCKING AREA (SOUNDBITE) (English) DAUGHTER OF SAUL SANCHEZ, 52-YEAR-OLD BEATRIZ SANCHEZ RANGEL, SAYING: "His main concern was me calling his job and letting him know that, that he's in the hospital, that he's going to be fine and he's going to be returning back to work on Monday and for them not to worry. So I did call JBS on Wednesday. I left a message, nobody was answering the phones." VARIOUS OF EMPLOYEES ARRIVING TO WORK AT JBS, SOME WEARING MASKS (SOUNDBITE) (English) DAUGHTER OF SAUL SANCHEZ, 52-YEAR-OLD BEATRIZ SANCHEZ RANGEL, ON PREVENTIVE MEASURES, SAYING: "I think they should have, since March 1st, I think they should have been protecting their employees. There's no employees, there's no company. So and I think, especially, your elderly or the people that are sensitive that have other health conditions, they should have protected them, they should have been compliant with whatever the governor of the state was saying, take care of your people." VARIOUS OF EMPLOYEES SITTING ON LAWN (SOUNDBITE) (English) DAUGHTER OF SAUL SANCHEZ, 52-YEAR-OLD BEATRIZ SANCHEZ RANGEL, SAYING: "Somewhere in JBS, they have great employees, they have great people that he really enjoyed. They call him grandpa, they called him 'Don Saul' (Mr. Saul). I've heard from so many people. I've had people called me crying telling me how much they loved him."
- Keywords: Beef plant COVID-19 Colorado Greeley Saul Sanchez coronavirus
- Reuters ID: LVA003C9CWI87
- Location: GREELEY, COLORADO, UNITED STATES/UNIDENTIFIED LOCATIONS
- City: GREELEY, COLORADO, UNITED STATES/UNIDENTIFIED LOCATIONS
- Country: USA
- Duration: 00:01:49
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Topics: Health/Medicine
- Story Text:At a Wayne Farms chicken processing plant in Alabama, workers recently had to pay the company 10 cents a day to buy masks to protect themselves from the new coronavirus, according to a meat inspector.
In Colorado, nearly a third of the workers at a JBS USA beef plant stayed home amid safety concerns for the last two weeks as a 30-year employee of the facility died following complications from the virus.
And since an Olymel pork plant in Quebec shut on March 29, the number of workers who tested positive for the coronavirus quintupled to more than 50, according to their union. The facility and at least 10 others in North America have temporarily closed or reduced production in about the last two weeks because of the pandemic, disrupting food supply chains that have struggled to keep pace with surging demand at grocery stores.
According to more than a dozen interviews with U.S and Canadian plant workers, union leaders and industry analysts, a lack of protective equipment and the nature of "elbow to elbow" work required to debone chickens, chop beef and slice hams are highlighting risks for employees and limiting output as some forego the low-paying work. Companies that added protections, such as enhanced cleaning or spacing out workers, say the moves are further slowing meat production.
Smithfield Foods, the world's biggest pork processor, on Sunday said it is shutting a pork plant indefinitely and warned that plant shutdowns are pushing the United States "perilously close to the edge" in meat supplies for grocers.
Lockdowns that aim to stop the spread of the coronavirus have prevented farmers across the globe from delivering produce to consumers. Millions of laborers also cannot get to the fields for harvesting and planting, and there are too few truckers to keep goods moving.
The United States and Canada are among the world's biggest shippers of beef and pork. Food production has continued as governments try to ensure adequate supplies, even as they close broad swathes of the economy.
The closures and increased absenteeism among workers have contributed to drops in the price of livestock, as farmers find fewer places for slaughter. Since March 25, nearby lean hog futures LHc1 have plunged 35%, and live cattle prices LCc1 shed 15%, straining the U.S. farm economy.
North American meat demand has dropped some 30% in the past month as declining sales of restaurant meats like steaks and chicken wings outweighed a spike in retail demand for ground beef, said Christine McCracken, Rabobank's animal protein analyst.
Frozen meats in U.S. cold storage facilities remain plentiful, but supply could be whittled down as exports to protein-hungry China increase after a trade agreement removed obstacles for American meat purchases.
"There's a huge risk of additional plant closures," McCracken said.
JBS had to reduce beef production at a massive plant in Greeley, Colorado, as about 800 to 1,000 workers a day stayed home since the end of March, said Kim Cordova, president of the local United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union that represents employees.
"There's just not enough people," Cordova said. She added that the union knew of at least 50 cases and two deaths among employees as of Friday.
Plant worker Saul Sanchez, known affectionately as "grandpa" among some co-workers, tested positive for the virus and died on April 7 at 78 years old, according to his daughter, Beatriz Rangel. She said he only went from home to work before developing symptoms, including a low fever.
"I'm heartbroken because my dad was so loyal," Rangel said.
Brazilian owned JBS confirmed an employee with three decades of experience died from complications associated with COVID-19, without naming Sanchez. The company said he had not been at work since March 20, the same day JBS removed people older than 70 from its facilities as a precaution. He was never symptomatic while at work and never worked in the facility while sick, according to the company.
JBS said it was working with federal and state governments to obtain tests for all plant employees.
Weld County, where the plant is located, had the fourth highest number of COVID-19 cases of any county in Colorado on Friday, according to the state. Health officials confirmed cases among JBS workers.
JBS said high absenteeism at the plant led slaughter rates to outpace the process of cutting carcasses into pieces of beef. The company disputed the union's numbers on worker absences but did not provide its own. It took steps including buying masks and putting up plexiglass shields in lunch rooms to protect employees, said Cameron Bruett, spokesman for JBS USA.
(Production: Moises Olmos, Norma Galeana)
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