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After 153 positive COVID-19 cases, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 is asking for the Farmer John meatpacking plant in Vernon to close down and maintain employee payroll and benefits while the outbreak is investigated.  

The facility’s positive cases were announced Saturday by the L.A. County Department of Public Health; 1,837 employees had been tested. 

The UFCW represents 1,300 workers from the Smithfield-owned facility, and believes the plant has not taken enough safety precautions for its employees. 

In response, Smithfield said it has received support from other UFCW local organizations, and that “We have implemented the same processes, protocols and protective measures in all of our more than 40 facilities across the country.”

These protective measures include masks and face shields, plexiglass barriers, thermal scanning systems that detect elevated temperatures before workers enter the facility, as well as free voluntary COVID-19 tests. 

(Courtesy of Smithfield)

Even with the measures that Smithfield said it had implemented, UFCW 770 president John Grant said, “Workers are still too close together on the line, in the breakroom, the bathrooms and other such hubs. Smithfield has not provided full information about what is really going on inside the Vernon plant. Without information we cannot make an informed decision about workers’ health and safety.”

The meatpacker also said it requires any sick employees to stay home, offering paid leave to “all employees at risk of serious complications from COVID-19.”

According to the L.A. County Department of Public Health, the 153 Farmer John employees who tested positive from March to May were all asked to stay home in quarantine, consistent with Smithfield’s stated protocol.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) is currently investigating the plant.