Waterloo, IA — Today, Tyson Fresh Meats closed its pork plant located in Waterloo, Iowa as a result of “COVID-19 cases, worker absenteeism, and community concerns.” Tyson also announced that Waterloo workers will continue to be compensated while the plant is closed.
The plant closure comes after a slurry of urgent calls for personal protective equipment access and safety measures, virus testing, line speed waiver moratoria, and mandated social distancing for all food workers.
In Iowa, Governor Kim Reynolds has been pushing to keep plants and processing facilities open.
In response, Emma Schmit, Iowa Organizer for Food & Water Action released the following statement:
“For a state that relies so heavily on a functional food supply chain, we’ve entirely neglected the people who keep it running. Food workers should be protected at all times, but especially during a pandemic. The spread of coronavirus among food workers and the subsequent, but necessary, plant closures are a result of many failures. Shame on companies like Tyson that put profit over worker safety and forced employees to keep working without adequate personal protective equipment. Shame on the USDA for ramping up approvals for dangerous line inspection speed waivers instead of halting them for the duration of the pandemic. Shame on Governor Reynolds for stoking unproven fears about food shortages to allow plants to stay open.
“The truth is that there are copious amounts of meat in cold storage around the country as a result of increased production, flat demand, and the Trump Administration’s trade war. And up to 30% of the pork produced in this country is exported -- but could be rerouted to shore up domestic supplies. Corporate agriculture is stoking fears of food scarcity to pressure officials to allow them to reopen facilities quickly and to protect their bottom line. Make no mistake -- this will come at the expense of workers’ health and safety.
“Our elected officials must reverse course and ensure plants like the one in Waterloo close immediately and stay closed as long as there is a risk of COVID-19 for workers. We support the common sense demands of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and other groups that care about the safety of our workers and our food: food workers should be prioritized for testing and paid for the duration of closures or sick leave, they should be immediately provided with PPE and other protective measures, those who continue working should receive hazardous duty pay for the duration of the pandemic, and there must be a halt on waivers to speed up production lines.
“If there are disruptions to our food supply, companies must be forced to utilize the meat they’ve stockpiled in cold storage or decrease exports. Re-opening these facilities prematurely only further jeopardizes the health and safety of workers -- and all for Big Ag’s bottom line.”