Hundreds of employees ‘call-off’ work at Greeley meat plant; company steps up health efforts

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GREELEY, Colo. (KDVR) — A meat processing plant that employs thousands of workers in Greeley is making changes at the facility to protect workers from COVID-19 after some workers tested positive for the illness.

“The health and safety of our communities and our team members providing food for us all during this unprecedented time remains our top priority,” said Cameron Bruett, a spokesperson for JBS USA. “We have enhanced safety measures, health protocols and worker benefits to keep our workplaces, team members and products safe.”

Bruett said the company is now conducting health screening on all workers by taking their temperature. The company has also stepped up sanitation and disinfection efforts and encourages social distancing by staggering shifts.

“As our community collectively faces this challenge, we must work together to defeat coronavirus. Food is an essential need, and our team is working hard to keep food on local grocery store shelves at a time when many Americans are unemployed, out of work or sheltering in place,” he said.

The union representing the plant workers says hundreds of people have been “calling off” work in recent days, and some workers have been infected with COVID-19.

“We ourselves are trying to investigate why there’s been this large number of call-offs at the plant,” said Kim Cordova, the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, UFCW Local 7. “It’s not an orchestrated type of union walk out or anything like that.”

Cordova said 1/3 of the work force, or about 800 workers, have decided not to report to work.

“That’s not normal,” she said.

Cordova said she is hoping to work with the state to have food-processing workers declared as emergency workers, so they may qualify for paid days off.

“Workers that work in the food processing division normally don’t have paid sick leave,” she said. “We have to make sure that workers don’t have to choose economically, ‘Do I go to work…I’m sick, but I can’t afford not to be.'”

“No one is forced to come to work and no one is punished for being absent for health reasons. If someone is sick or lives with someone who is sick, we send them home,” said Bruett. “Every day, thousands of committed team members show up to the Greeley beef production facility to help our community and our nation face this crisis. We salute and thank them.”

Betty Rangel said her father, Saul Sanchez, 78, works at the Greeley plant and has been in the hospital since March 24, diagnosed with COVID-19.

“He’s very, very, very sick. He’s right now on 100 percent oxygen,” she said.  

Rangel said her father is face-down, with his head turned to the side at the medical center.  

“He did not look well at all,” she said. She saw him through an iPad as he tried to share some encouraging thoughts with him. She hopes he could hear them.

“I told him I loved him very much and that I was waiting for him to get better because this year we had scheduled our vacations together and we loved traveling together and that’s what I told him. I told him too we loved him and needed him to be strong and come out of this,” she said.

Rangel said her father was very concerned when he went into the hospital about having his family contact his workplace to let them know about his condition. He wanted them to know he would be back to work soon.

“He was like, ‘I just have problems breathing, but I’m OK,’ and I said, ‘You’re going to be OK, Dad. You’re a strong man,’” she said.

Rangel said she knows many people at JBS are pulling for her father to make a recovery.

“My dad means the world to me,” she said. “His No. 1 goal was for all of us – his kids, three boys, three girls – he always instilled the education. The love for education. The love for God. I tell people all the time if they see anything good in me, it’s because of my dad,” she said. “He instilled in me compassion, humility, and he means the world to me. He’s like my best friend. My mentor.”

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