Ernest Latiker works at the now shuttered facility in Waterloo, Iowa. He said he continued to go into work after being reassured of his safety and ‘needing the money’.
Latiker, who is said to now be awaiting the results of his COVID-19 test, told CNN he called HR amid concerns coronavirus was at the facility.
He said: ‘I was scared for me and my family. They told me I was safe and they told me that everything was ok. They told me I have a better chance of catching the coronavirus going out to Walmart than at Tyson, if you come to work you’re safe.’
‘I wanted to believe to them and I needed the money at the same time so I went to work’, Latiker added.
Tyson Foods, the largest U.S. meat supplier, told DailyMail.com: ‘We have relaxed our attendance policy and have repeatedly instructed workers to stay home if they’re sick. We have turned away team members when our temperature check reveals they have a fever and they are the referred to the local health care system for evaluation.
‘Our Waterloo pork plant has suspended operations and we have started the process to test team members.’
Tyson Foods worker Ernest Latiker, pictured, said he called HR amid coronavirus concerns
Tyson Foods, the largest U.S. meat supplier, said it will indefinitely suspend operations at its largest pork plant in Waterloo, Iowa, pictured, after operating at reduced capacity
The company said it will indefinitely suspend operations at its largest pork plant in Waterloo after operating at reduced capacity.
Plant employees tested positive for the virus, and others stayed home out of fear of becoming infected. The facility slaughters about 19,500 hogs a day, or about 5 per cent of total U.S. pork production, according to industry data.
Tyson said 2,800 workers at the Iowa plant would be compensated during the closure and invited to the facility later this week for coronavirus testing.
The outcome of the tests and other factors will determine when the facility will reopen, according to the company.
Two employees their plant in Columbus Junction have died following a coronavirus outbreak. The deaths of the workers at that plant were the first known to be linked to an outbreak at a meatpacking plant in Iowa.
The Arkansas-based company said the closure of the plant in Waterloo would deny a vital market to hog farmers and further disrupt U.S. meat supply.
Tyson had kept the facility, its largest pork plant, open in recent days over the objections of alarmed local officials.
Chairman John Tyson said in a statement Sunday: ‘We have a responsibility to feed our country. It is as essential as healthcare. This is a challenge that should not be ignored. Our plants must remain operational so that we can supply food to our families in America.
‘This is a delicate balance because Tyson Foods places team member safety as our top priority.’ He warned that ‘the food supply chain’ is breaking.
Tyson’s statement, in the form of an advert in a number of newspapers on Sunday, came after workers at plants argued they were not being protected by their employer.
Employers have struggled to contain the virus in meatpacking plants, where workers toil side by side on production lines and often share crowded locker rooms, cafeterias and rides to work.
While plants have added safety measures, public health experts say social distancing is virtually impossible.
Several facilities have temporarily closed due to virus outbreaks, including a Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a JBS USA plant in Worthington, Minnesota, and a Redwood Farms Meat Processors in Estherville, Iowa.
Others have temporarily shuttered for testing and cleaning.
According to plant workers, union leaders and industry analysts, a lack of protective equipment and the nature of ‘elbow to elbow’ work are highlighting risks for employees and limiting output as some forego the low-paying work.
Companies that added protections, such as enhanced cleaning or spacing out workers, say the moves are further slowing meat production.
At Wayne Farms’ chicken plant in Decatur, Alabama, some workers are upset the company recently made employees pay for masks, said Mona Darby, who inspects chicken breasts there and is a local leader of hundreds of poultry workers for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.
‘My life is in jeopardy because we’re working elbow to elbow,’ she said.
John Tyson, pictured, has warned that ‘the food supply chain’ is breaking
Workers at a Tyson Foods Inc chicken plant in Shelbyville, Tennessee, bought their own masks when the facility ran out, said Kim Hickerson, who loads chicken on trucks there and is a union leader. Some are talking about quitting because they are scared of getting sick, he said.
‘I just put it in God’s hands,’ he said.
Tyson, the top U.S. meat producer, is working to find more personal protective equipment for employees, spokesman Worth Sparkman said.
The company increased cleaning at facilities and sought to space out employees, which can both slow production, according to a statement.
Workers at Smithfield Foods plants in South Dakota said they were given flimsy masks made of hairnet-like material, hand-washing stations were in disrepair, and there was pressure to keep working even if they felt sick.
One employee told his supervisor on March 30 that he had a fever the previous day, but he was told to report to work and not to tell anyone about the fever. He worked that day, missed the next two and returned when the fever broke, he said.
A spokesman said Smithfield ‘fully rejects any claims that employees were pressured to report to work,’ calling it ‘completely counterproductive’ to do so.
Smithfield Foods plant in South Dakota could reopen ‘in a matter of days’
South Dakota’s governor on Monday said she hopes Smithfield’s Sioux Falls pork processing plant can reopen soon, a day after U.S. labor regulators urged the meat industry to adopt certain measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus among workers.
‘I’m hopeful that we can get it opened as soon as possible,’ Kristi Noem told Fox News Channel in an interview.
‘They have some mitigation measures to put in place, but I think in a matter of days it could be opened, as long as everybody continues to work together and get it done.’
Smithfield Foods, the world’s biggest pork processor, has shut down several U.S. plants due to a rash of coronavirus cases among employees, raising concerns about the nation’s meat supply and worker safety.
Its cases in Sioux Falls triggered a so-called hot spot of U.S. coronavirus cases. Noem, a Republican, was among the few governors who did not issue stay-at-home orders.
On Sunday, the U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued new interim guidelines with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that call for meat industry workers to be at least 6 feet apart, have their temperatures checked and wear face masks.