In a major new FERN investigation, published Friday in collaboration with Mother Jones, reporters Esther Honig and Ted Genoways tell the stories of workers in America’s meatpacking plants who are facing high rates of Covid-19 — and of the industry’s chilling disregard for its workforce.
Based on extensive interviews with workers, they report that JBS, a meat company with $50 billion in sales:
- Pressured workers at its beef plant in Greeley, Colorado, to show up for work even after they were exposed to the virus. Colorado state health authorities found that more than 245 workers have tested positive at the plant, and six have died.
- Failed to provide workers personal protective equipment until well into the pandemic.
- Lacked soap and hot water for hand washing.
- Stopped testing workers for Covid-19 when numbers soared, according to worker advocates.
“No one is forced to come to work and no one is punished for being absent for health reasons,” a JBS spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “If anyone experienced something different, that is troubling and not consistent with our culture or our policies.”
Currently, according to data being updated daily by FERN staff writer Leah Douglas, at least 99 meatpacking and processed food plants have confirmed cases of Covid-19, and at least 20 meatpacking plants and five processed-food plants are currently shut down due to the virus. At least 6,832 workers are confirmed sick and at least 25 have died.