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Worker with COVID-19 at JBS meat facility in Tolleson speaks out amid coworkers' concerns

Posted at 5:26 PM, Apr 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-28 21:31:57-04

TOLLESON, AZ — State legislators are now getting involved as workers at the JBS meat processing facility in Tolleson are increasingly growing vocal about their concerns of catching coronavirus, and are calling for the plant to close temporarily for a deep-cleaning.

On Tuesday, a man shared his own concerns, as ABC15 was able to corroborate he is a JBS employee and that he did test positive for coronavirus on Saturday.

"The night before last was really rough, I had a little bit of a fever, really bad body aches," said the employee, who asked to remain anonymous.

That employee told ABC15 he wasn't feeling well on Saturday and after leaving work, went for the coronavirus test, which came back positive. It's unclear specifically where he contracted the virus, but he said he has notified coworkers he came into contact with.

"I felt safe for the most part, but it's just hard knowing that there's approximately 400 people working there, so social distancing while you're working is kind of impossible there," the employee said.

Meatpacking plants around the country have closed in recent weeks, as workers have fallen ill. This week, several employees from the JBS plant in Tolleson told ABC15 they want the company to close the facility for two weeks for deep cleaning and to prevent any outbreak from occurring.

"If all the workers are getting sick, then nobody is going to show up to work," the employee said. "If nobody shows up to work, there's going to be no production."

A representative for JBS USA has not confirmed, nor answered specific questions about, positive cases in Tolleson. However, this week that representative did say team members have tested positive "in the U.S."

On Tuesday, ABC15 learned the state legislators who represent District 19, where the JBS Tolleson plant is located, are getting involved.

"We've been reaching out to the company, to the city, to the unions involved," said State Senator Lupe Contreras, who is recovering from the virus himself.

ABC15 asked Contreras about how many confirmed cases he was aware of at the facility.

"I just do know there is a few," he said.

Contreras told ABC15 he wants to ensure employees have adequate access to testing.

"They're out there doing their job, we need to make sure that they're safe," he said.

The Communications Director for the Arizona House Democrats told ABC15 State Rep. Diego Espinoza and Rep. Lorenzo Sierra have also been in contact with the governor's office as well as the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 99.

"We're still getting with all the parties involved and trying to get down to the nuts and bolts of this whole thing," Contreras said.

A representative for JBS USA previously told ABC15 the company has been staggering shifts, requiring the use of masks and conducting temperature checks to try and prevent any spread of the virus. Additionally, the representative said the company has removed vulnerable populations from their facilities, while providing full pay and benefits.

The sick employee who spoke with ABC15 said he knows there's only so much they can do.

"Don't get me wrong, they are trying," he said. "It's hard, but you can only do so much. You can only do so much while people are working there day and night."