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Complaint alleges JBS not protecting workers

contributed photos Pictures were provided to LULAC on March 27 of the JBS plant in Marshalltown showing how close workers were to one another in dressing rooms, break rooms and outside for a special “thank you” lunch the company provided for employees.

An Iowa Workforce Development OSHA complaint was filed on Wednesday by the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) of Iowa, or Council No. 307, against JBS in Marshalltown.

LULAC Council No. 307 president Joe Henry said the company is not protecting workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The hazard description described in the complaint, numbered 31976862, states that unsafe working conditions at the JBS in Marshalltown exist in cutting, processing, break and dressing rooms. The complaint further states JBS employs 2,700 people in Marshalltown “who work shoulder to shoulder in most of the meat cutting and processing department rooms at the facility.”

Not only does the LULAC complaint specifically address JBS in Marshalltown but all other meat-packing plants in Iowa.

The complaint was sent to OSHA after a worker at the JBS facility in Ottumwa tested positive for COVID-19 and that another employee was in self-isolation.

Cameron Bruett, JBS corporate affairs spokesperson in Greeley, Colo., said enhanced safety measures have been put in place in the Marshalltown JBS facility to keep the workplace, team members and products safe.

“Including increased sanitation and disinfection efforts; health screening and temperature testing; staggered starts, shifts and breaks; heightened health protocols; increased spacing in cafeterias, break rooms and locker rooms and enhanced worker benefits,” Bruettt said.

A receipt sent to Henry from the Iowa Workforce Development on Wednesday acknowledged the complaint was accepted and stated that JBS would be contacted and told about the OSHA guidelines. An employee of the state agency also said an on-site investigation would probably not happen since there are no COVID-19 regulations.

Bruett said JBS has not received any communication from Iowa Workforce Development — OSHA.

“We will certainly partner with anyone working to help our community and country during this unprecedented time,” Bruett said. “The JBS Marshalltown facility is open, operating and meeting customer demand to ensure food is available on American grocery store shelves across the country.”

Some of the COVID-19 guidelines suggested by Iowa Workforce Development include developing a plan in the event of sickness and implementing workplace practices such as promoting personal hygiene and encouraging ill workers to stay home.

Bruett said JBS is a proud member of the Marshalltown community.

“The health and safety of our team members providing food for us all remains our top priority,” Bruett said. “As a food company providing an essential service during the global pandemic, we are doing everything we can to promote a safe working environment while producing food for our country.”

Henry said Marshalltown workers reached out to his chapter located in Des Moines to tell him about the conditions and also provided photographs of the interior which were provided to LULAC on March 27.

“They said protective gear and space were not being provided,” he said. “They have been concerned about what will happen to them if someone has COVID-19.”

The identifications of the workers are being kept confidential due to concerns of retaliation.

Since March, Gov. Kim Reynolds and President Donald Trump have advised people practice social distancing — standing at least 6 feet apart — and from gathering in groups of more than 10 people.

“The workers are standing shoulder-to-shoulder,” Henry said. “We are very concerned the plant is not following guidelines or providing respiratory devices.”

This is not the first time Henry has gotten complaints about the meat-packing plant, which is Marshalltown’s largest employer.

“These last five years, workers have been treated like cattle,” he said. “They are viewed as a temporary solution until everything is automated. They do what they have to do when they are called on it.”

CORRECTION: Photos were provided to LULAC on March 27.

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Contact Lana Bradstream at lbradstream@timesrepublican.com.

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