GREELEY, Colo. (KDVR) — Workers at the JBS meat processing plant in Greeley walked off the job Friday afternoon to amid negotiations regarding pay and safety improvements.
According to state data, 287 workers at the plant have tested positive for COVID-19. Six plant workers have died.
Additionally, five people at JBS’ corporate offices have tested positive for the virus; one of those workers has died.
Abigail Silva, a worker at the plant, estimated more than 200 people walked off the processing line Friday.
UFCW Local 7, the union representing workers, said it did not organize the walkout.
Kim Cordova, the union’s president, said JBS reportedly took hundreds of employees’ badges and sent them home, even those who did not walk out Friday.
“This action appears to be an attempt by JBS to strong-arm its employees into accepting a less competitive wage increase that would lock them into a five-year agreement, with little to no chance for any further wage increases,” Cordova said.
The union president said JBS refuses to discuss “necessary safety improvements” and rising health care costs.
“Wages are important, but agreeing to more money in the short term does not provide stability or long-term comfort for a family if their father or mother is dead. JBS should agree to discuss all issues related to its workers, some of which are life and death concerns, but has thus far been uncooperative,” Cordova said.
Video posted to Facebook shows workers leaving the facility. Rhonda Solis, who posted the video, said she was there to show support for the employees.
Solis is the vice president of the Latino Coalition of Weld County.
“We’ve already lost several workers. There are still workers that are trying to come back from COVID. They’ve had COVID, they haven’t recovered fully and they’re still unable to work,” Solis is heard saying in the video.
JBS described the situation as a “brief work disruption” and said it was “resolved without incident.”
According to the company, it has reached an agreement to increase wages at nearly all of its beef and pork facilities in the U.S.
“However, the local union has refused to present this same hourly pay increase offer to our Greeley team members, which increases base pay to $18 per hour, with top rates of nearly $25.00 per hour,” JBS said in a statement issued Friday afternoon. “We are hopeful the local union will allow for a democratic vote on the offered increase so that our Greeley beef team members and their families can benefit from the extra pay that JBS USA plants across the country have overwhelmingly approved and currently enjoy.”
JBS said it gave employees a $600 bonus plus a $4 per hour bonus for six weeks. The company said it is also providing a $1,500 bonus that will be paid through the end of 2020.
JBS added that it has invested more than $100 million in safety measures during the pandemic.