Concerns still rise over conditions at meat processing facilities

Posted at 6:24 PM, Apr 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-29 19:24:54-04

CUDAHY — Across the country, safety conditions at meatpacking facilities are under scrutiny as the number of COVID-19 cases rises.

Smithfield Foods, the Owner of Patrick Cudahy plant, would not confirm how many COVID-19 cases are linked to their facility. Instead, they directed us to this statement.

"Across all its facilities, the company is providing team members with abundant personal protective equipment...has implemented mass thermal scanning and installed physical barriers on its production floors."

In Brown County, more than 470 COVID-19 cases were employees who worked at meat and food processing plants. The health department said they are working closely with the facilities.

"We are working with them and making sure they are complying with the guidelines set by the CDC and OSHA," said Claire Paprocki, Brown County Public Health Strategist.

According to the Wisconsin Beef and Cattle Council, an early study shows this pandemic has a 14 billion dollar economic impact nationally. Here in Wisconsin, the impact to cattle farmers 180 million dollars. Wednesday morning Governor Tony Evers supported the president's decision but only if the workers are safe and healthy.

"The president's outreach on this issue order on this issue is important for making sure that our supply chain is good and make sure that we have good, nutritious meals…But at the other side of the story, we also have to make sure that our workers are healthy. And I don't think one can happen without the other," said Governor Evers.

The Patrick Cudahy plant partially shut down operations after a COVID-19 outbreak among its employees. Walter Garron, a former representative, said he is speaking out on the employees' behalf because many are afraid of the repercussions. He said the company has improved conditions in the breakroom but not on the line.

"On the line, they don't have dividers. They have provided face shield for workers, but I just got off the phone with workers, and they are having issues with the face shields," said Garron.

Walter said he would like to continue to see COVID-19 testing at the facility and improve social distancing measures on the line.

"We are trying to make sure the company provides a test for the workers non-stop," said Garron.

Christine Neumann-Ortiz with Voces De La Frontera says many people have expressed concern to their organization. Christine says she will continue to fight to make sure all employees' safety is the main priority for companies.

"It's going to require a movement of essential workers and their families with the support of the public to demand essential workers have to have full protection over corporate profits," said Neumann-Ortiz.

To read the full statement from Smithfields Food, click here.

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