Here is some good news – Tyson Foods is reopening its largest pork processing plant in Iowa today. After a two-week shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic outbreak in the plant, it’s now time to open the plant and get it running again. The processing plant employs 3,000 people.
The plant in Waterloo, Iowa closed after Mayor Quentin Hart called upon the company to do so. By April 21, 182 of the county’s Covid-19 cases originated by workers in that plant. On April 22, the plant shut down operations in order to sanitize and clean the facility, along with putting new procedures into place. A statement released by Tyson Foods announced the entire plant has been resanitized and installed “enhanced safety precautions and protective social distancing measures” that meet or exceed standards recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (W.H.O.), as well as Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidance.
Wellness health screening of all team members each time they arrive at the facility, checking for symptoms such as coughing or shortness of breath in addition to continuing use of the infrared thermometers to check temperature.
The supply of protective facial coverings to every team member and requiring they are worn.
The required use of face shields for team members where workstation barriers cannot physically be implemented.
Additional dedicated social distance monitors stationed throughout the facility during all shifts to help ensure team members adhere to safety protocols and social distancing requirements.
The company has doubled its “thank you” bonus for its frontline workers. Team members who cannot come to work because of illness or childcare issues related to COVID-19 will continue to qualify. Tyson Foods has also increased short-term disability coverage to 90% of normal pay until June 30 to encourage team members to stay home when they are sick.
That all sounds reasonable, right? The company invited community and business leaders, as well as plant workers, to tour the plant Wednesday to check it out.
Mayor Hart and the Black Hawk County health department did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the plant’s reopening. Tyson said the mayor recently toured its revamped Waterloo plant along with Black Hawk county sheriff Tony Thompson, local United Food and Commercial Workers union president Bob Waters and other community business leaders.
“I am pleased that Tyson is working on protecting its employees and partnering with the community leaders for the good of all,” Mayor Hart said in a written statement provided by Tyson.
UFCW union president Bob Waters also gave the plant’s new safety measures his stamp of approval.
“Tyson has gone above and beyond to keep their employees safe and I support the reopening of the facility,” Waters said.
I’ve written several posts about meat processing plant closures during the coronavirus pandemic, mostly because the stories catch my attention as the food purchaser in our house. As a shopper, it is easy to notice shortages, whether it is toilet paper or cleaning supplies or shortages of fresh meat in some markets. Some stores have begun to limit the number of fresh meat purchases in order to prevent panic shopping as the plants continue to close. The food supply chain has been disrupted and it is silly to deny it. It’s not a reason to panic but it is worth keeping an eye on the progress being made as food processors proceed to take the steps to reopen. Some areas in the country aren’t experiencing any problems at all, and that’s good.
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds visited the White House yesterday and met with President Trump, Vice-President Pence, Dr. Birx, and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, among others. Secretary Perdue predicts the food supply will be back at full capacity within ten days. Governor Reynolds noted that most of the processing plants are able to remain up and running.
“One of the great stories of the coronavirus outbreak has been that our food supply has continued to work every day, from the field to the fork, from the grocers to the meat processors,” Pence said.
At the White House, Reynolds noted the meatpacking plants in Iowa had outbreaks of the virus, which shut down production. The Reynolds administration announced Tuesday that more than 1,600 workers at four Iowa meat packing plants had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Those figures included more than 730 positive cases at a Tyson pork processing plant in Perry. But the governor said at the White House the Perry plant was still operating at 60% capacity.
“We’ll have most of our facilities up and going. And so as we continue to keep them up and processing, we’re going to hopefully prevent a really sorry situation where we were euthanizing some of our protein supply and really impacting the food supply, not just across the country but throughout the world, and so this is critical infrastructure is an essential workforce,” Reynolds said.
Iowa is a state that is slowly reopening, as the governor mentioned. The state is ramping up testing, especially in meat processing plants and nursing homes. The flip side is that the more testing that is done, the more cases of the coronavirus are found. In the meantime, taking additional precautions and reopening businesses is a step in the right direction. Governor Reynolds said the top priorities are keeping workers safe and keeping “the country fed.”