Meatpacking workers often absent after order to reopen


Smithfield Foods Inc is missing around a third of its employees at a South Dakota pork plant because they are quarantine or afraid to return to work after a coronavirus outbreak, Reuters reports.

Tyson Foods Inc was forced to close its Storm Lake, Iowa plant a month after they were ordered to reopen.

Nationwide, 30 to 50 percent of meatpacking employees were absent last week, said Mark Lauritsen, the VP at the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

More than a dozen meatpacking workers, union leaders, and advocates told Reuters that many of their employees still fear getting sick after losing confidence in management during coronavirus outbreaks in April and May. Absenteeism varies by plant, and exact data isn’t available, but some workers’ unwillingness to return poses a challenge to an industry struggling to restore normal meat output.

Daily pork production was down by as much as 45% in late April as around 20 plants closed because of outbreaks. Production has rebounded since plants reopened last month in response to President Trump’s order but remain down from the pandemic. The UFCW union, which represents about 80% of U.S. pork and beef production, told Reuters that major pork plants are running at about 75% capacity.