Final few hundred employees help close Greeley plant, third worker dies from COVID-19

Coronavirus

GREELEY, Colo. (KDVR) — Approximately 600 employees will work through Wednesday to prepare the JBS meat production facility in Greeley for a complete shut-down until at least April 24.

“We’re closing the plant to make absolutely sure we have a safe working environment, and we’re doing that in the interest of not only our team members but in the interest of the community,” said Cameron Bruett, a JBS corporate spokesperson.

Bruett said the company originally planned to test all of its more than 3,000 plant workers for COVID-19 but decided to take a more “aggressive and cautious” approach.  

“Let’s just quarantine everyone. Shut the plant down for a period of time, and then restart,” he said.

Bruett said the company provided some tests over the weekend to some workers but said company leaders felt a plant closure would be in the best interest of everyone.

People who go through the extended quarantine and isolation will not require testing, he said.

When the FOX31 Problem Solvers asked Bruett whether the company should have closed earlier, he referred to the plant’s designation by the federal government as a critical facility that needed to stay open.

“We put in every safety measure based upon the guidance of the CDC and others,” he said, explaining that the beef provided by the facility represents about 3% of the beef supply in America.

“It was a big decision to close that facility. We didn’t take it lightly,” he said.

Most of the workers reporting to the facility on Tuesday and Wednesday will be cutting up carcasses to prevent food waste, according to Bruett. They will be paid time-and-a-half, he said. Those who were not asked to report to work will be paid, he said.

 “JBS…was not prepared for this pandemic in Colorado,” said Kim Cordova, the president of the union representing the plant workers, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7.

Cordova said the union filed complaints with OSHA and filed grievances with JBS. She said the union is also demanding more testing for employees, despite the company’s decision to forgo testing for everyone.

“The other thing we want for these workers is hazard pay,” said Cordova, who explained that three union employees have passed away since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Most recently, family members told FOX31 that Tiburcio Rivera, 69, succumbed to the illness.

“I know his family is devastated. I know we’re all struggling. All I want is for his memory never to be forgotten,” said Rey Mendez, a family friend of Rivera.

Mendez said he thought of Rivera as a second father and remembered him as a smiling man who always was among the last to show up to a party with his “signature entrance.” He was always carrying a case of Pepsi and a tres leches cake, said Mendez.

“I just hope JBS can do something for his family,” Mendez said. “He is the most humble person I’ve ever met in my life. Always smiling. Never mad. Never angry.”

“He was an excellent husband,” said Clara Gonzales de Rivera, Rivera’s wife, in Spanish. “He was good with all his kids. He earned the trust of strangers because everyone saw the good in him. And he always saw the good in people,” she said.  “All he tried was to do good by fulfilling the favors asked of him so that one day the favor would return. He was a good man.”

His daughter, Maria Rivera, told the FOX31 Problem Solvers that Rivera was a magnificent father who worked hard and loved spending time with family and friends.

“I believe that God has him in Heaven with Him, and one day, we will be there too with him,” she said in Spanish.

“Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to everyone impacted by the coronavirus,” said Bruett. 

He declined to confirm the number of deaths or illnesses associated with JBS.

However, Bruett said the company is also working on better communication with employees. 

“I think it’s fair to say that that’s an area that we need to improve,” he said. Bruett said JBS is now implementing technology that allows the company to send rapid texts to employees. It automatically translates into the user’s native language, he said.

“Language communication can be difficult at the plant where there’s 20-plus languages spoken,” he said.

Bruett said the company also established a coronavirus hotline and an ethics hotline.

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