Greeley JBS Meatpacking Workers Worry They Were Exposed To Coronavirus

JBS Greeley Beef Plant
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The JBS Greeley Beef Plant on Friday April 3, 2020.

Families of JBS meatpacking plant workers in Greeley who are hospitalized with COVID-19 say the company isn't doing enough to protect its workforce.

Plant employee Crystal Rodriguez is self-quarantining with her four children. Her father, who also works at JBS, tested positive for the disease this weekend. He has been in the hospital since last Friday and was put on a ventilator this week.

She came into contact with her dad when picking up her 2-year-old who was being looked after by her mother. She doesn't have symptoms, but her doctors have told her to stay at home for a 14-day self-quarantine. She said JBS told her she could lose her job after seven days of missing work because of company policy and because she didn't have a doctor's note. She said the company told her if she got a note, she could have the entire 14 days off. Rodriguez said she is having trouble getting a doctor's note because she doesn't have symptoms and her doctor is busy with other COVID-19 patients.

"I'm kind of angry because I don't understand why everybody's lives are being put at risk just to make the product," she said. "There's never any soap in the bathroom so we can wash our hands. I see some people going in and they have flu-like symptoms but they are too scared to miss work."

The plant is classified as an essential business under the statewide stay-at-home order. JBS said in an emailed statement to CPR that it is "promoting physical distancing where possible."

As of last Friday, according to Rodriguez, employees were still working shoulder-to-shoulder in the plant.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment advises employees in the food industry to isolate if they are ill or if they have come into close contact with someone who has the coronavirus.

Health officials say there is no reason to believe the disease can be transmitted through food. But in order to protect other workers from contracting COVID-19, CDPHE has published guidelines for businesses.

Here are CDPHE guidelines for employers on sick workers:

If a worker in a food processing facility has tested positive for COVID-19, sick employees should isolate. Employers should sanitize workspaces, ramp up cleaning, encourage employees to wash their hands, and maintain approximately 6 feet of distance between people, when possible.

JBS said it has tried to stick to social distancing by staggering starts times, shifts and breaks, and by increasing spacing in cafeterias, break rooms and locker rooms.

Beatriz Rangel's 79-year-old father is on a ventilator with COVID-19 too. She said her dad, Saul Sanchez, has been working at JBS for three decades. Rangel said she struggled to get in contact with anyone at the company to notify them of Sanchez's illness and that when she finally did reach someone, they didn't seem to care that her father could have picked up the disease at work or spread it to his coworkers.

The Greeley Tribune reports that more than 800 people didn't come to work at the plant on Monday.