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Union president says JBS workers are scared to go to work amid outbreak at meatpacking plant

jbs meat plant.jpg
Posted at 10:28 PM, Jul 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-14 00:28:24-04

GREELEY, Colo. -- Three days after an unscheduled employee walkout and three months after health officials forced the JBS plant in Greeley to shut down, talks between the workers union and management broke down Monday.

The Colorado-based slaughterhouse has reported six employee deaths since the coronavirus pandemic first swept through the plant in March. The facility is also second on the state’s list of outbreak sites with more than 280 reported cases of COVID-19.

Union president calls for action

“The company didn’t change their offer," said Kim Cordova, president of UFCW7, the union that represents JBS employees. “The company came to the table and didn’t listen to what the workers concerns were,” Cordova added. “The workers here at the JBS plant work in some of the most dangerous conditions in the entire county,” continued Cordova. “Six workers have died working on the production side and the company came to the table and did not recognize their hard work or the dangers they are experiencing.”

Union executives, union workers and representatives of JBS management began meeting early Monday morning inside a conference room at a Greeley hotel. The meeting followed an unscheduled walkout by workers on Friday.

Workers say supervisors are threatening their jobs

“I think there’s a miscommunication between JBS and the supervisors within the plant,” said Sylvia Martinez, the spokesperson for Latinos Unidos, a group that also represents JBS employees. “JBS is saying, 'If you are sick don’t come to work,'" added Martinez. “But, within the plant, if a worker calls in sick, they are being threatened that they better (report to work) or they are going to get fired.”

Martinez tells Denver7 that she has talked with several employees who have verified the claims she shared. Martinez says workers are growing frustrated with the lack of empathy by managers when they are notified of employees displaying symptoms of COVID-19

Hundreds of workers staged a walk out at the plant on Friday and Martinez said some, but not all, returned to work on Monday.

“Between 170 and 190 have not shown back to work. The concern is their hazard pay and they want it back,” said Martinez. “They want to be recognized as essential workers, as human beings,” Martinez continued. “They are risking their lives on a daily basis by going into this plant and they want what is fair."

Union President Cordova said eight hours of talks with JBS management ended with no significant progress.

“Disgusted with a company that has put these workers through so much stress and so much harm,” Cordova said minutes after the day-long negotiating session wrapped up. “Workers have died here, and the lack of respect the company shows them... I’m furious, I’m mad, workers are mad. These workers here deserve so much more for everything that they sacrifice for this country."

Cordova said she is not sure what is next in this process.

“It ended, we told the company they needed to come back with a serious offer and they needed to fix safety issues in that plant," she said.

JBS issues statement

Management at JBS issued the following statement at the conclusion of the talks in Greeley:

"Today, JBS USA held discussions with the local union regarding our June 9th voluntary offer to open the collective bargaining agreement that expires in July 2021 and immediately provide additional wages with no strings attached to our Greeley beef team members."

Our offer includes a competitive base wage rate of $18.00 per hour and an industry-leading top wage rate of nearly $25.00 per hour. In addition, we have provided more than $3,300 in bonuses to our Greeley beef team during the pandemic, including $4.00 per hour in hazard pay."

Unfortunately, for more than a month, the local union has refused to present our offer to our team members, costing them thousands of dollars in lost wages. This strategy makes for great television, but costs real people, real money."

We have implemented safety measures before receiving direction, and followed and often exceeded CDC guidance every step of the way. The Greeley beef plant has undergone numerous audits, safety inspections and reviews by federal, state and local health authorities. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment recently toured the facility and offered no suggested changes or opportunities for improvement to our COVID-19 preventive measures. This gives us confidence we are doing the right things to protect our workforce as the pandemic continues to spread across Colorado."

In the last month, our team members across the country have approved similar wage increases at JBS USA facilities in Beardstown, Ill.; Cactus, Texas; Grand Island, Neb.; Green Bay, Wis.; Hyrum, Utah; Louisville, Ky.; Marshalltown, Iowa; Ottumwa, Iowa; Plainwell, Mich.; Souderton, Pa.; Tolleson, Ariz.; and Worthington, Minn."

Our Greeley beef team members have worked hard and deserve the opportunity to vote on our offer like the nearly 24,000 other JBS USA team members who have recently voted to increase their wages."