Meat Processor JBS USA to Partially Reopen Minnesota Pork Facility, Says Workers’ Union

May 4, 2020 Updated: May 4, 2020

Meat processor JBS USA is planning to partially reopen its pork production facility in Worthington, Minnesota, on Wednesday after closing for more than two weeks due to an outbreak of the CCP virus at the plant, the union representing its workers announced.

The Worthington pork facility, which has more than 2,000 employees and processes about 20,000 hogs per day, will open its “kill side” on Wednesday, UFCW Local 663 said in a release Sunday.

The announcement comes after at least 26 workers at the facility were reported to be infected with COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, also known as the novel coronavirus, last month, prompting its indefinite closure.

Meat-processing workers are particularly susceptible to the CCP virus because they typically stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the line and congregate in crowded locker rooms and cafeterias.

“JBS plans to reopen the kill side of the plant this Wednesday, May 6. As it has been since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, your safety at work is our top priority,” the release said.

The union has been “hard at work ensuring that reopening the plant involves a commitment to enhanced safety guidelines for a safe reopening of the Worthington plant,” UCFW Local 663 President Matt Utecht said in a statement.

JBS USA will implement a number of safety measures (pdf) that must be adhered to upon the plant’s partial reopening, the release notes. These include measures to thoroughly disinfect the plant and enforcing social distancing measures.

Meanwhile, all employees, contractors and visitors will be required to wear face masks upon entering the facility, and will be subject to temperature screenings.

While the Worthington plant has been closed, it was cleaned “floor to ceiling,” while touchless trash cans, 30 touchless water faucets, and 80 touchless sanitizer dispensers have been installed.

“If you have any symptoms of COVID-19, such as a fever, do not go to work,” Utecht said.

The news comes amid warnings of U.S.-wide shortage of meat as workers get infected by the CCP virus, with some plants forced to shut down. In recent weeks, Smithfield Foods, a Chinese-owned firm that operates in the United States, has confirmed plant closures.

The threat of a meat shortage prompted President Donald Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act to order meat processing plants to stay open.

“It is important that processors of beef, pork, and poultry (meat and poultry) in the food supply chain continue operating and fulfilling orders to ensure a continued supply of protein for Americans. However, outbreaks of COVID-19 among workers at some processing facilities have led to the reduction in some of those facilities’ production capacity,” the president wrote in the order last week.

Trump said that such actions have led to closures of plants, but stressed that it threatens the supply chain.

“Given the high volume of meat and poultry processed by many facilities, any unnecessary closures can quickly have a large effect on the food supply chain,” Trump wrote.

Jack Phillips contributed to this report.