Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls has now been identified as a hot spot for coronavirus, but it’s also a hot topic on social media.
Wednesday the state health department said Smithfield Foods had over 80 employees who tested positive for COVID-19.
Thursday the meatpacking plant announced it will close for three days from April 11-13
so it can sanitize and review how it’s keeping its employees safe.
But this closure will also have an impact on the country’s food supply.
Smithfield’s CEO and Sioux Falls’ plant manager had a heated conversation on the phone today with Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken about its coronavirus outbreak, which now makes it one of the country’s hotspots.
“They’re mad, I’m mad, it’s tense,” TenHaken said.
Mayor TenHaken says that’s because the meatpacking plant is being told by the federal government to stay open to not disrupt the food supply.
“All you have to do is go to a grocery store or go to a meat counter and see the limited supply in front of you and you’ll understand there’s a reason why our meatpacking ag processing facilities are critical and being told by the federal government please stay open,” TenHaken said.
TenHaken says Smithfield is taking the outbreak seriously and has been told the company will do all it can to stop the spread of COVID-19 among its 3,700 employees. But the mayor says he’s more concerned about what happens outside the plant.
“I believe for good reason that the spread we are seeing at Smithfield isn’t necessarily happening at the plant itself, it’s happening when people leave the plant and go home,” TenHaken said.
The city health department is especially concerned about the Hispanic and Nepali communities at the plant who the mayor says has been hit hard by the virus. The city is now working closely with those populations to better communicate the importance of good hygiene and social distancing.
“A piece of good news is if you look at the growth of cases in our community over the last few days and if you could just remove the Smithfield outbreak we’ve seen pretty minimal growth in Minnehaha and Lincoln Counties, so that’s encouraging,” TenHaken said.
TenHaken says he’ll wait and see what happens at Smithfield after the three-day shutdown before he decides if more drastic measures need to be taken.
The United Food and Commercial Workers, the union representing Smithfield, has issued a statement concerning the outbreak.
Full statement from Union
UFCW members at Smithfield in Sioux Falls, like our members across the country, are hard-working, incredibly dedicated, and focused on delivering the safe food that American families need during this outbreak. Keeping our food supply chain strong starts with ensuring that these brave frontline workers have safe workplaces, essential protective equipment, and the strong pay they need to support their families as they do this incredibly important work.
The COVID-19 cases at this plant are troubling, and even one case is unacceptable. However, after the first positive case, we pushed Smithfield to move quickly to ensure the safety of the workers in the plant, including closing the department where the outbreak was centered.
UFCW successfully secured additional protections and support for these Smithfield workers, including access to testing with union-negotiated health care, paid leave to stay home from the beginning of the outbreak if any worker came in contact with a person with coronavirus (as determined by the employer or the union). As the outbreak continues, UFCW is working to ensure all of our members continue to have aggressive and proactive representation that pushes to have their plant meet the highest safety standards.
We applaud Smithfield’s decision to temporarily close the plant to push for an even safer work environment and will continue to push them to implement stringent safety measures at this plant and at every plant we represent.”UNITED FOOD AND COMMERCIAL WORKERS INTERNATIONAL UNION STATEMENT