JBS employee, locals question safety measures put into place at Ottumwa plant

On March 23rd Wapello County reported its first case of COVID-19, confirmed to be an employee...
On March 23rd Wapello County reported its first case of COVID-19, confirmed to be an employee of JBS but since then some employees fear there has not been enough done to keep them safe.(Bella Tierce KYOU)
Published: May. 14, 2020 at 10:30 PM CDT
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OTTUMWA, Iowa (KYOU) - On March 30th JBS USA confirmed JBS in Ottumwa had one case of COVID-19. Since then no other cases have been confirmed by the company but many Ottumwans think otherwise.

Weekly KYOU receives calls and emails from worried workers, spouses, and family members about whether JBS employees are safe or not. One employee, who asked to remain anonymous, says the roll out of COVID-19 protocols and safety precautions has been a slow process.

“Well after I heard about the first case, was when they finally started, like they started with just putting tape on the ground saying this is where people should be. Then they actually started separating hallways. I think the cafeteria was cramped with booths for up until about two weeks ago,” said the anonymous employee.

This employee and many others felt like the protocols put into place should have been done sooner. Cameron Bruett, Head of Corporate Affairs for JBS USA shared this statement with KYOU in regards to the case in Ottumwa.

“We have implemented a wide of range of measures in Ottumwa to combat coronavirus and keep our team members safe. We will endeavor to keep our facilities open to help feed the nation, but we will not operate a facility if we do not believe it is safe. The health and safety of our team members remains our number one priority.

We are mindful of the increasing number of facilities across the U.S. that have experienced decreased production or outright closure. The coronavirus pandemic has affected all of us, and we salute our team members who are working hard each day to continue to feed the country.

Today, every JBS USA facility temperature checks 100% of the workforce before they enter a facility. We use hand-held thermometers and thermal imaging technology to screen every team member and immediately send sick team members home. We also provide and require face masks to be worn at all times on company property. No one is forced to come to work and no one is punished for being absent for health reasons.”

According to the employee we spoke with, there is a map inside JBS Ottumwa with the number of coronavirus cases. Last week it was at 46 and this week that number nearly tripled.

“I’ve seen a map that shows most recently on Tuesday, the highest number I saw on that map was 116." KYOU was unable to confirm this number with JBS USA.

The employee says that for the most part morale inside the facility is the same as normal but attributes that to having no other option. “I think that part of that comes from a lot of us are just like ‘Well, I mean, what else are we gonna do?’ So we’re just gonna have to be there and we’re gonna be working.” This employee says they wish the plant was shut down early on and deeply sanitized before work continued. Mostly they hope that bringing light to this situation can cause more communication between the company and their employees.

In addition to the protocols listed above, Bruett says the following measures were also implemented.

  • Promoting physical distancing by staggering starts, shifts, and breaks, and increasing spacing in cafeterias, break and locker rooms, including plexiglass dividers in key areas;
  • Increasing sanitation and disinfection efforts, including whole facility deep-cleaning every day;
  • Hiring dedicated staff whose only job is to continuously clean facilities, including common areas beyond the production floor;
  • Removing vulnerable populations from 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 enrolled in the company’s health plan;
  • Offering free LiveHealth Online services for team members enrolled in the company’s health plan that allow for virtual doctor visits at no cost;
  • Educating and encouraging team members to practice social distancing at home and in the community outside of work; and
  • Restricting access to facilities and not allowing visitors.

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