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Valley leaders working to ensure workers at meat packing plant have access to coronavirus testing

JBS Meat Plant
Posted at 5:50 PM, Apr 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-29 22:49:06-04

TOLLESON, AZ — Local leaders say they are working to ensure employees at a Valley meatpacking plant have adequate access to coronavirus testing, as workers continue to share fears of a potential virus outbreak.

JBS Beef in Tolleson has remained open, as other meat processing facilities have temporarily closed across the country as workers fell ill with coronavirus. On Tuesday, President Trump announced he planned to sign an executive order to keep these facilities open, as the closures have threatened the food supply chain.

On Wednesday, an employee at JBS in Tolleson told ABC15 she is concerned about contracting the virus, given how many people she works around, although she acknowledged the company has done a good job trying to keep employees safe. She told ABC15 she went for a coronavirus test on Tuesday, which came back negative.

"The reason why I'm here is...to support my family," said the employee, who wanted to remain anonymous out of concern for their job.

That employee also expressed some concerns about meatpacking plants being pushed to stay open.

"My reaction to that is, I mean, people do need to eat so I do agree, somewhat, that it should be open," the employee said. "But not right now."

Several employees have called for a two-week shutdown of the Tolleson plant to ensure it undergoes a deep-cleaning. JBS USA has previously provided ABC15 with a lengthy list of preventative measures they've put in place at their facilities, such as conducting temperature checks, staggering shifts, and requiring the use of masks.

On Wednesday, some elected officials said they are reaching out to the governor's office to see about expanding access to coronavirus testing for the JBS employees.

"I think the testing is needed to ensure the workers are as safe as possible," said State Representative Lorenzo Sierra. "It probably needs to be done more than other industries."

Sierra did note healthcare workers and the risk they face.

"But as we've seen across the country, meatpacking plants have shown to be exceptionally vulnerable to COVID-19," Sierra said.

On Wednesday, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union called on all governors to enforce CDC guidelines to ensure meatpacking workers are kept safe.

Tolleson Mayor Anna Tovar told ABC15 she has reached out to JBS.

"With my conversations with them, with the plant manager, they have assured me they are following all the CDC guidelines and also the USDA guidelines that were put into effect this past weekend," Tovar said.

Tovar also said she has reached out to Gov. Ducey's office to ensure employees at JBS have adequate access to testing, noting up to 1,500 people work there. She did point to the testing blitz starting this weekend as an opportunity.

Meanwhile, another JBS employee wonders how meatpacking plants will stay open if employees keep getting sick. ABC15 did verify the man works at JBS and tested positive for coronavirus this past weekend.

"Everybody's going to keep getting sick, nobody is going to show up for work and then they're not going to be able to run the lines and produce all this meat for everybody," the employee said.

JBS USA has not provided any details on the number of potentially sick employees in Tolleson. On Wednesday, the company sent ABC15 the following statement on the President's executive order:

The men and women who feed America have gone unnoticed for far too long. The country is now rightly focused on their essential role in keeping grocery shelves stocked and helping feed families across our nation every day. Their health and safety remains our primary focus. To us, they have always been essential. We thank the Administration for acknowledging the important role food companies serve and ensuring that our food supply will remain resilient during these unprecedented times.