JBS Worthington plant reopens with reduced staff after COVID-19 outbreak

    The JBS pork packing plant in Worthington has temporarily closed amid a COVID-19 outbreak that has sickened at least 26 workers. Photo by Ricardo Lopez/Minnesota Reformer.

    JBS USA, one of the largest meat processing companies in the country, reopened its Worthington pork processing plant Wednesday, after being forced to temporarily halt operations last month because of a COVID-19 outbreak.

    The reopening of the plant comes a week after President Donald Trump issued an executive order compelling meat packing plants to stay open amid widespread outbreaks that have disrupted the nation’s meat supply. JBS Worthington processes roughly 4% of the country’s pork supply.

    As of Monday, nearly 600 JBS employees had tested positive for the virus, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Nobles County, home to the plant, has the second highest number of lab-confirmed cases in the state, second only to Hennepin.

    UFCW Local 663, which represents 1,850 workers at the JBS plant in Worthington, informed its workers over the weekend about the plant’s operations restarting, as well as the measures JBS is taking to ensure their safety.

    “The best way to protect our food supply is to protect Minnesota’s meatpacking workers by having clear safety standards at JBS,” said Matt Utecht, UFCW Local 663 president. “While JBS was shut down, our union has been hard at work ensuring that reopening the plant involves a commitment to enhanced safety guidelines for a safe reopening of the Worthington plant.”

    He added: “Workers will return to enforced social distancing in the plant and common areas, frequent and thorough disinfecting, and daily communication so they are kept updated.”

    Cameron Bruett, a spokesman for JBS, said in a statement that the plant reopened with reduced staff.

    “We expect operations to normalize over time as absenteeism rates decline in response to the preventive measures in place at the facility and as team members clear any necessary quarantine protocols,” he said.

    Ricardo Lopez
    Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.