Unions Say Anti-COVID Measures Are Fading

Dec. 21, 2021
Unions representing meat plant workers are charging that companies are quietly dismantling the protections they had instituted against COVID infections.

Unions representing meat plant workers are charging that companies are quietly dismantling the protections they had instituted against COVID infections.

Workers at plants owned by Smithfield Foods, JBA USA and other companies complained to Reuters that enforcement of social distancing, mask wearing and other anti-COVID measures are no longer a priority where they work.

At a Smithfield slaughterhouse in South Dakota that was closed by a COVID outbreak in April 2020, teams of workers had been assigned to enforce social distancing and sanitize surfaces; that team has been disbanded and its workers assigned to other duties. At a JBS plant in Greeley, Colo. that was also shut down in the spring of 2020, management had staggered break times to reduce close contacts; that practice has also been stopped, personnel told Reuters.

“Unless they do reconstruction of the plant or they slow down the line speeds, they're still elbow-to-elbow in the plant," the union local president said.

The companies involved acknowledge that in some cases, workers have been reassigned from COVID safety duties. They contend that vaccines and increased awareness make strict enforcement of anti-COVID measures less necessary, and that they are meeting all regulatory requirements for safety.

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