On Tuesday, Tyson Foods confirmed that 815 plant workers tested positive for coronavirus at two of its processing plants in Iowa. The company revealed that 591 of those workers were from its Storm Lake pork packing plant and the other 224 workers were from its beef and pork processing plant in Council Bluffs. Tyson employees in both communities were tested through public and private healthcare as well as at their plant.
About the Western Iowa Tyson Foods Coronavirus Outbreak
The numbers from the Storm Lake represent a jump from initial reports from the Iowa Department of Health just a few days ago. At the time, the agency had confirmed that 555 of the 2,517 workers from the meatpacking plant had tested positive for the virus.
Of the 224 workers who tested positive for coronavirus at the Council Bluffs plant, only about half of them were showing symptoms. Critics of Tyson have warned how quickly the virus can spread between people makes it incredibly dangerous for meatpacking workers who share small spaces throughout their shifts.
Tyson says that both facilities are part of a list of 40 plants where the company will begin to use “advanced testing capabilities and enhanced care options on-site to team members.”
Meanwhile, some meatpacking workers across the nation have complained that the company was slow to react and failed to inform them of their exposure to the virus before it spread to the rest of their factory. Some have said that going into work has made them fearful for their lives. Communities around meatpacking plants owned by large companies such as JBS, Tyson, and Cargill Inc. have been a hotspot for the virus, and plants have had to close multiple times because of repeated outbreaks.
Tyson Workers Might Be Penalized for Protecting Themselves
As Tyson commends itself for safety measures that it's taking for workers, it's forcing the people it claims to be protecting into a difficult situation. After announcing the new COVID-19 cases in Iowa, the company confirmed that it would be resuming its attendance policy.
The policy penalizes workers who miss shifts through a points system. Those who accumulate too many points can be fired.
While Tyson says that it will excuse absences from workers who have tested positive for coronavirus, the resumed policy means that scared workers might face unemployment if they don't place themselves in harm's way. Many advocates argue that it's completely reasonable for meatpacking to be fearful as plants across the nation continue to have considerable outbreaks, even has public coronavirus cases have started to decline. As mentioned above, many of the workers who tested positive for the virus showed no symptoms. In other words, they could have been spreading the virus without even knowing they had it.
Joe Henry, director of the League of Latin American Citizens of Iowa condemned the policy.
"Going back to any prior attendance policy is the wrong move to make, especially with the continued outbreak with [Tyson] facilities and other facilities across the state," Henry said. "You can’t do that."