Worker Absenteeism, Local Pushback Prompts Tyson to Close Waterloo Plant

Today, Tyson Foods announced the closure of its Waterloo plant.

Local officials in Black Hawk County have been calling for this for weeks as plant workers continued to test positive for COVID-19 and the overall number of positive cases in the county has dramatically increased.

One of the reasons is absenteeism. Workers have stopped showing up out of concern for their safety or because they were feeling ill.

“Despite our continued efforts to keep our people safe while fulfilling our critical role of feeding American families, the combination of worker absenteeism, COVID-19 cases and community concerns has resulted in our decision to stop production,” said Steve Stouffer, group president of Tyson Fresh Meats, in a press release.

The executives at the plant have repeatedly assured the state they were taking all the necessary precautions by staggering breaks, installing plastic barriers between workers, increasing the amount of Personal Protective Equipment and taking employees’ temperatures before and after their shifts.

But multiple reports from workers at the Waterloo plant and other locations have workers disputing those measures, with many saying they’re too afraid to go into work.

Gov. Kim Reynolds has refused to order the closure of meatpacking facilities in Iowa, citing its role in the nation’s food supply. All closures have happened because the owners of the plants made the call.

“The facility, the company’s largest pork plant, has been running at reduced levels of production due to worker absenteeism, and will stop production mid-week until further notice,” the press release reads. “The facility’s 2,800 team members will be invited to come to the plant later this week for COVID-19 testing.”

Still, cases have continued to increase.

In the press release issued this morning, Tyson Foods says the company has kept an eye on COVID-19 since January when it created “a company coronavirus task force.”

Meatpacking facilities have become some of the biggest hotspots for outbreaks in Iowa and surrounding states.

Woodbury County has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases, and one death, in workers from a Tyson Plant in South Sioux City, Nebraska. The company has denied its plant being the source.

In South Dakota, the since-closed Smithfield Foods meatpacking plant in Sioux Falls accounts for the majority of cases in the state. An outbreak at a JBS USA meatpacking plant in Central Nebraska has resulted in that county reporting more cases than metro areas like Omaha.

JBS USA has shut down plants in Minnesota but a Green Bay, Wisconsin facility is still open.

According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19

 

by Nikoel Hytrek
Posted 4/22/20

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