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Meat shortages possible as plant production slows

After 7 cases of COVID-19 were reported at JBS in Worthington, the union is asking for production to slow so workers can social distance.

WORTHINGTON, Minn. — Grocery stores nationwide are warning consumers that there may be less meat on the shelves in the future, as plants work to keep employees safe from coronavirus. A local outbreak at JBS, a pork processing plant in Worthington, was reported Friday. 

Governor Tim Walz confirmed Friday that there is a COVID-19 outbreak at Worthington plant. 

The union representing workers at the plant said that there were seven cases. Earlier Friday, the union stated an incorrect number of cases.

At the Minnesota Department of Health daily briefing, MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm also confirmed that there were seven positive coronavirus cases at the facility. MDH has sent crews down to monitor the situation.

In Friday's briefing, state health officials said many workers at JBS have links to the South Dakota meat processing plant which has the largest outbreak in the nation.

The Worthington facility employs over 1,850 workers and is the largest pork production facility in Minnesota, according to the union's news release. Mayor Mike Kuhle said the plant pumps roughly $100 million into the city's economy each year and processes more than 20,000 hogs a day, all bought within 100 miles of Worthington. 

The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 663 President is asking the plant's owner to slow down the production lines in order to allow more safety for the employees.  

Lisa Thoma, a union representative at the JBS plant said, “Workers are scared and frustrated. JBS needs to slow production lines now for the safety of all us workers,” according to the union's news release.

UFCW Local 663 President Matt Utecht released the following statement on Friday:

“Production line speeds inside JBS and other food processing plants in Minnesota must be immediately slowed to make safe social distancing between workers possible. Allowing six feet between workers is the best and most proven way to flatten the curve of COVID-19 and must be implemented by JBS and other companies without delay. Failure to make this critical safety improvement will put our community and our nation’s food supply at devastating risk. At a time when schools and restaurants are being closed for the sake of public health, it defies logic to keep the people who make the food we all eat standing shoulder to shoulder while they work. This is an incredibly serious situation. If we don’t act now to slow line speeds at food processing plants in Minnesota it will be too late for too many people.”

JBS also released a statement to KARE 11, saying that it's supporting employees and their families in the event of positive tests. They have already started boosting precautions, including:

  • Increasing sanitation and disinfection efforts, including whole facility deep-cleaning every day
  • Promoting physical distancing by staggering starts, shifts and breaks, and increasing spacing in cafeterias, break and locker rooms, including plexiglass dividers in key areas
  • Dedicating staff to continuously clean facilities
  • Temperature testing all team members prior to entering facilities, including the use of hands-free thermometers and thermal imaging testing technology in many locations
  • Providing extra personal protective equipment (PPE), including protective masks to all team members that are required to be worn at all times
  • Removing vulnerable populations from facilities, offering full pay and benefits
  • Requiring sick team members to stay home from work
  • Waiving short-term disability waiting periods
  • Relaxing attendance policies so people don’t come to work sick
  • Providing free 100% preventative care to all team members enrolled in their health plan
  • Offering free LiveHealth Online services for team members enrolled in their health plan that allow for virtual doctor visits at no cost

RELATED: Live updates: MN legislature approves new coronavirus relief package

RELATED: Smithfield temporarily shuts SD pork plant due to coronavirus

KARE 11’s coverage of the coronavirus is rooted in Facts, not Fear. Visit kare11.com/coronavirus for comprehensive coverage, find out what you need to know about the Midwest specifically, learn more about the symptoms, and see what companies in Minnesota are hiring. Have a question? Text it to us at 763-797-7215. And get the latest coronavirus updates sent right to your inbox every morning. Subscribe to the KARE 11 Sunrise newsletter here. Help local families in need: www.kare11.com/give11

The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

There is also a data portal online at mn.gov/covid19.

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