COVID-19 concerns reported at Greeley’s JBS meat plant; county health department opens investigation

Family member, doctor question decisions and culture at the plant
jbs meat plant.jpg
Posted at 10:25 PM, Apr 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-04 00:25:53-04

GREELEY, Colo. -- It’s one of the busiest slaughterhouses and meat production facilities in the country; and now, the Greeley JBS facility is coming under question for its handling of employees and safety during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“They’re letting people work in the area where cases have been confirmed,” said the daughter of two long time JBS workers. Her parents have dedicated their lives to the plant and now she is speaking out on their behalf. She continued, saying the employees are working with “people who have had coronavirus.”

She spoke under the condition of anonymity. She confirmed to Denver7 that her two parents currently work at the plant. Her request to remain anonymous centers on her fear plant managers will retaliate against her parents and she fears they could be fired.

“They are not disinfecting anything,” she added. “They are not using any supplies to disinfect the machinery or whatever they use in there. There is no protection whatsoever for the employees.”

Her concern escalated during the past 24 hours when her parents visited doctors and were told their symptoms were consistent with COVID-19. A doctor informed them that they are presumptively positive and should remain under quarantine for ten days.

“I'm definitely angry, I’m very upset and very scared,” added the daughter of the two employees. “I hope they can fight this virus that’s going on and it doesn’t get worse for either my mom or my dad.” She continued, my dad is (in the highri-sk age group) and my mom has asthma problems.”

Governor Jared Polis’ statewide stay at home order excluded the JBS plant in Greeley from shutting down. The facility was deemed an essential business, which allows it to continue operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s a decision that has sparked controversy because of several reports of employees testing positive for COVID-19.

“You know, I do want people to be OK," said the daughter. Her emotions starting to show as she continued, “I want my mom and dad to be OK and hopefully not get worse for them. I really hope so.”

Families and employees have reached out to doctors in Greeley and the media raising concerns about the ongoing culture at the Greeley meat packing plant. The have accused JBS management of ignoring calls for social distancing, not informing employees when other employees have tested positive for the new virus and not requiring employees exposed to the virus to quarantine.

“I have had eight or nine or people who have told me on- or off-the-record pretty harrowing stories about what is going on in that plant in relation to the virus,” said Cuyler Meade, a reporter at the Greeley Tribune who has also talked to concerned employees and families.

“While their policy is to track down people who have been in contact with people who are sick or have been quarantined,” Meade added, “that’s clearly not happening.”

Meade says one current employee told him they made a picket sign and were planning to picket outside the facility. “The picket sign said,” he added. “It’s hard to close a business for three or four weeks… it’s even harder to close a casket on your loved one.”

Contact7 Investigates also spoke with a Greeley area doctor who also requested anonymity. The doctor said her team has examined more than a dozen JBS employees who have shown symptoms of COVID-19. She said they have told doctors that managers at JBS are not encouraging or supporting employees showing symptoms to stay at home.

Contact7 Investigates contacted the Weld County Health department for comment on the accusations and received this response:

“The Weld County Health Department is aware of the situation at JBS. We have just begun our epidemiological investigation. Our health officer has been in conversations with the leadership team at JBS. The Health Department is taking it seriously and as we’ve moved this up in our priority list, we’ve added additional EPI staff to help with this investigation.”

Contact7 Investigates contacted sources at JBS offering an interview to address the concerns raised by family members, employees and doctors. The company declined the interview request, but instead provided this statement:

"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.

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. 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.

JBS USA has had team members test positive for COVID-19 in some of our U.S. facilities. We are providing support to those team members and their families, and we hope they all make a full and speedy recovery. Out of respect for the families, we are not releasing further information.

The health and safety of our communities and our team members providing food for us all during this unprecedented time remains our top priority. We have enhanced safety measures, health protocols and worker benefits to keep our workplaces, team members and products safe. These include increased sanitation and disinfection efforts; health screening and 100% temperature testing of all team members; extra personal protective equipment, including masks; and promoting physical distancing where possible by staggering starts, shifts and breaks, and increasing spacing in cafeterias, break rooms and locker rooms.

We are communicating directly with our team members and following guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, medical professionals and local health departments every step of the way. We recognize that many people feel anxious as we all face the coronavirus challenge together. We are a proud member of the Greeley community, and we will continue working hard to support our team members and our resilient community through this uncertain time.

I encourage you to reach out directly to Abraham White with the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union for comment on our shared partnership in facing the coronavirus challenge."