Updated data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment about COVID-19 reveals that the JBS meat plant in Greeley remains among the biggest outbreaks in the state — and during his May 6 press conference about the fight against the virus, Governor Jared Polis cast shade on the company for reneging on a pledge to test all workers before reopening. In make sure such tests are conducted in the future, Polis promised that "we'll work with them or around them, if needed."
That remark was subtle compared to what MSNBC host Rachel Maddow said about the firm at the top of her latest broadcast, aired mere hours after Polis left the podium. She absolutely eviscerated JBS in a segment calling the administration of President Donald Trump to task for ordering such facilities to reopen even if doing so could pose a tremendous risk to workers and the community at large.
So far, seven JBS employees have died from the novel coronavirus.
The state recently offered free testing in Greeley because of JBS, Polis pointed out; the tests took place around a mile away. He added that JBS management had promised to test workers after public-health officials ordered the plant to close, then opted instead to give the facility a good cleaning over a fourteen-day period rather than test everyone. Meanwhile, the company sent a cease-and-desist letter to UFCW Local 7 president Kim Cordova accusing the union, which represents workers at the plant, of violating its collective-bargaining agreement via "a strategy of generating negative media attention and public opinion in an effort to unwind agreements made in the CBA and gain concessions from the Company as they relate to employee safety."
Cordova's response: "UFCW Local 7, our members, JBS and federal, state and local government have one common goal: to ensure that the JBS plant in Greeley is a safe place to work so it can resume business. However, UFCW Local 7 does not agree that the plant is safe at this time because all workers have not been tested for COVID-19, despite promises from Vice President Mike Pence stating he would ensure tests flow to the plant, as well as from Governor Jared Polis and JBS. By reneging on this promise and opening the JBS plant up...despite not testing every worker, Weld County will continue to be a COVID-19 hot spot in Colorado since many workers could be presently infected and asymptomatic, spreading coronavirus in the plant and the community."
Cordova appeared in a video clip during the May 6 Maddow program, a portion of which can be seen below:
Maddow nationalized the story by pointing out that the JBS "plant was working with the White House directly. I mean they’re being talked about publicly by the vice president, about how they’re going to surge testing resources there." But despite the company essentially claiming "We're on it," she continued, "they didn’t test all their workers. They decided they would close for a while, and then reopen, and start running the plant again without testing everybody who works there. They started testing managers in Greeley and supervisors in Greeley, first, and the results of those tests were reportedly over 40 percent positive, and when they got those results, then the company decided actually they weren’t going to test all their workers after all, because imagine what they would find."
Against this backdrop, Maddow talked about another JBS worker who's lingered in intensive care for more than a month; hospitalized since late March, she's currently in a coma and on a ventilator. Her daughter, who also tested positive about the same time she gave birth, said that her mother had felt sick, left the plant, then returned the next day before deteriorating so badly that she visited what was characterized as a "health clinic" at the facility.
According to Maddow, JBS pushed back on this story. "We do not have a company-affiliated clinic in Greeley," it said in response to a query from NBC. "We do have an on-site health services team that is focused on diagnosing and treating occupational health injuries and illnesses only."
“Because this isn’t something she got occupationally?” Maddow asked rhetorically.
Maddow's conclusion: "The company that owns this plant, that reopened this plant without testing all their workers, despite the fact that they had an agreement with the county health department that they would test all of the workers, despite the fact that they said they were working with the White House to secure tests for all of their workers, despite their public statements to that effect — they reopened without testing all of their workers. Seven of their workers have died, [and] we know at least one is hospitalized and on a ventilator."
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.