Earlier this week, Smithfield Foods and JBS USA each announced the temporary closure of a facility due to the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 among its employees.
On April 12, Smithfield Foods announced that its Sioux Falls, S.D., facility will remain closed until further notice. The plant is one of the largest pork processing facilities in the U.S., supplying four to five percent of U.S. pork production and employing 3,700 people. More than 550 independent family farmers supply the plant.
Stating that the agriculture and food sectors, which are considered essential industries, have not been immune to the virus, Smithfield CFO Kenneth M. Sullivan said, “We have continued to run our facilities for one reason: to sustain our nation’s food supply during this pandemic. We believe it is our obligation to help feed the country, now more than ever. We have a stark choice as a nation: we are either going to produce food or not, even in the face of COVID-19.”
In preparation for a full shutdown, some activity occurred at the plant on April 14 to process product in inventory, consisting of millions of servings of protein. Smithfield will resume operations in Sioux Falls once further direction is received from local, state and federal officials. The company will continue to compensate its employees for the next two weeks and hopes to keep them from joining the ranks of the unemployed.
JBS USA. On April 13, JBS announced the temporary closure of the Greeley beef production facility until April 24, 2020, and multiple additional efforts to support the fight against coronavirus in Weld County, Colo. As the largest employer in the county with more than 6,000 team members, the company is focusing its efforts to help combat the spread of coronavirus.
The Greeley beef facility wound down operations at the beginning of the week with a diminished staff to ensure existing product in the facility can be used to support food supply needs. In partnership with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment, the company has advised its Greeley beef team members to shelter in place in accordance with Colorado Governor Jared Polis’ stay-at-home order until returning to work. The company will continue to pay its team members during the plant closure.
Weld County is currently experiencing a growing outbreak of COVID-19, with nearly 740 cases to date. To further aid the community’s response to the local outbreak, the company will provide funding to replenish personal protective equipment (PPE) for first responders and essential city workers, including protective suits for Greeley fire, police and transit officials; provide funding for antibody testing for first responders; and donate $90,000 to the Greeley Personal Isolation Facility to house recovering COVID patients and free up critical hospital space for critically ill individuals. The company will also purchase and provide up to 1,000 COVID-19 test kits for low-income and uninsured local Weld County residents who require testing, in addition to the $1 million in test kits it had already purchased. Rather than test its team members, the company has decided to take more aggressive action and self-quarantine Greeley beef employees until plant reopening.
To date, JBS has adopted the following safety measures, health protocols and worker benefits at all its facilities.
- 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 our 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 that are required to be worn at all times
- Removing vulnerable populations from our 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
- Offering free LiveHealth Online services that allow for virtual doctor visits at no cost