- JBS USA voluntarily removed 202 workers, including those who are 60 and older, from its Greeley, Colorado, beef facility as part of its vulnerable population policy, a company spokesperson said in an email. The workers are getting full pay and benefits.
- The plant is one of the largest in the country with about 3,500 workers. The spokesman said there have been 32 cases among its Greeley plant workforce in the most recent wave of community outbreak in Weld County, where the plant is located. In recent weeks, the company said, Weld County has had more than 4,450 cases and Colorado has had more than 69,120 cases.
- Across all of JBS's U.S. facilities, the spokesperson said the company has removed more than 5,000 people — roughly 8% of its workforce — with pay and benefits during the most recent wave of infections spreading across the country. To accommodate for staff reduction, JBS said it may simplify the mix of products in a plant.
As the meat industry continues to fight off coronavirus surges in communities across the country, JBS is ramping up its defensive strategy to protect the more at-risk members of its workforce.
Early in the pandemic, meat plants became hot spots for outbreaks and many criticized the industry for responding too slowly. During the course of the pandemic, many meatpackers — including JBS, Tyson and Smithfield — have implemented precautions in plants, including temperature checks, staggered start times, required use of masks, physical barriers, UV germicidal air sanitation and plasma bipolar ionization technologies. But even with precautions, coronavirus has continued to spread.
The original outbreak at the Greeley plant was among the worst in the industry, with six deaths and more than 290 cases as of October, according to the Greeley Tribune. In September, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited the plant with a proposed $15,615 fine for "failing to protect employees" from the coronavirus.
JBS said it first removed vulnerable workers at the Greeley plant in late March. Some returned in August as case numbers subsided in the community. Many beef, poultry and pork plants across the country temporarily closed to stop the spread of the virus early on in the pandemic. The Greeley plant temporarily shuttered in April after urging from the local union.
Since March, the largest meat companies in the country have spent hundreds of millions on COVID-19 precautions and tens of thousands of workers have been infected. JBS USA has invested more than $415 million into COVID-19 precautions, support and bonuses. Executives have expressed more confidence since precautions have been in place, even as the virus has surged across the country.
"I’m pretty confident we are not going to have the size of the disruption we saw in April and May," JBS CEO Andre Nogueira said at The Wall Street Journal’s Global Food Forum in October.
As cases surged around Colorado, JBS said it partnered with the state to offer testing to its workers at a location near the Greeley plant. Many say testing has helped to slow the spread of the virus in processing plants.
"We are optimistic that this, coupled with our weekly surveillance testing and contact tracing protocols, has contributed to the low number of positive cases at our facility despite the high rate of spread in the surrounding community," the spokesman said.
Last month, JBS USA also announced it would cover 100% of employee costs associated with COVID-19 diagnosis and treatment. That move came in addition to free COVID-19 testing, which has been available for the company’s workers since March. To date, JBS has conducted more than 20,000 random surveillance tests of asymptomatic team members, the company said.
Amid the continued spread of the virus, the food industry is pushing for workers to be prioritized for vaccinations. Last week, the North American Meat Institute urged officials to place meat and poultry workers at the front of the line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. JBS said the company is actively working with state and local health departments to coordinate vaccination of its workforce as soon as it becomes available.
"The meat and poultry industry was among the first sectors to be challenged with the pandemic, and since March the industry has implemented effective programs and controls to stop the spread of COVID," NAMI CEO Julie Anna Potts said in an emailed statement. "Our efforts are working, but access to vaccines remains the most critical tool to protect this critical infrastructure workforce."