COLD SPRING -- Workers at Pilgrim's Pride in Cold Spring are pressing the company to disclose the number of employees who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Mohamed Goni, a staff organizer with worker advocacy organization Greater Minnesota Worker Center, says more than 100 workers walked out of the poultry processing plant late Monday night, demanding more information about the number of infected workers, along with safer workplace conditions.

Goni, who was present for the walkout, says an increasing number of employees were beginning to fall ill with COVID-19 in the days leading up to the walkout, but were continuing to punch in for work.

"There were many folks in the plant who had tested positive for the virus," Goni said. "I personally talked to one of the managers on Monday night, and he said he doesn't know how many people have gotten sick. The company is not sharing that information with the workers. And workers were concerned; some of them felt the workplace was very unsafe."

Goni says he, along with several workers, spoke with a manager of the facility prior to the walkout.

“The message from the company was, ‘either get to work or leave,” Goni said. “And, the consequence of leaving, they were told, is that they’ll never be employed with Pilgrim’s Pride again.”

According to a statement sent by Cameron Bruett, Pilgrim's Head of Corporate Affairs and Sustainability, only around 20 people demonstrated outside the plant Monday night. The protesters, Bruett says, were a mixture of workers and local activists.

"We listened to their concerns and explained the extensive measures the company has taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus among our workforce," the statement said. "The brief disruption had no impact on operations."

"We have had some team members who work for our company affected by COVID-19," the statement continued. "Given the widespread nature of the virus, we cannot know for certain how, where or when our team members were infected. We wish everyone impacted by this common enemy a healthy and speedy recovery.

The statement says the company is implementing a variety of safety measures, including:

  • Providing extra personal protective equipment, including face masks that must be worn at all times on company property
  • Increasing sanitation and disinfection efforts, including whole facility deep-cleaning
  • Promoting physical distancing by staggering starts, shifts and breaks, and increasing spacing in cafeterias, break and locker rooms
  • Providing physical partitions on production lines
    Dedicating staff to continuously clean facilities
  • Removing vulnerable populations from our facilities, offering full pay and benefits
  • Requiring sick team members to stay home from work

Goni says employees tell him they like and appreciate their jobs, but will not feel safe inside the plant unless steps are taken to isolate sick employees and inform others.

"If one person is sick, and goes into that plant, there will be hundreds of infections," Goni said. "It's really serious. In the next two weeks, if something isn't done, it will be out of hand and we'll be in a very, very bad situation."

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