170+ NWA employees demand change at Tyson Foods’ facilities amid COVID-19

KNWA

"These workers are risking their lives literally and it's an urgency for the people to stand up for these workers," Licolli said.

SPRINGDALE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — More than 170 employees signed a petition to demand changes at Tyson Foods’ facilities in Northwest Arkansas during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If these workers are sick, if these workers die, we are not going to have food on our tables.


MAGALY LICOLLI, VENCEREMOS CO-FOUNDER

Magaly Licolli is the co-founder of Venceremos — an organization in Arkansas whose mission is to ensure human rights for poultry workers.

On Wednesday, April 22, Tyson Foods suspended operations at a pork processing plant in Iowa due to COVID-19 cases and high absenteeism during the pandemic.

That very same day, Venceremos supporters marched down to the Tyson Food Berry Street plant in Springdale carrying a petition of more than 170 signatures from Northwest Arkansas Tyson employees demanding a change.

“They want sick leave benefits, they want wage increases, they want transparency on the COVID-19 cases at the plant,” Licolli said.

Licolli said these workers are terrified to speak up, so this effort from them is a huge deal.

“Workers’ health is public health,” she said. “We want the people to support this effort because as we have seen around the country, many meat processing plants are closing down because of the outbreaks.”

KNWA/KFTA reached out to Tyson Foods Spokesperson Worth Sparkman about the petition and asked several other questions as well, including — what is the plant doing to protect its employees and can NWA expect any plant closures?

Sparkman declined to do an interview and instead sent a video statement from Tyson HR Operations Vice President Hector Gonzalez.

“This is an everchanging situation and we are committed to exploring every way possible for keeping our team members safe,” Gonzalez said in the video.

The video statement doesn’t address most of our questions, but it does provide some insight as to what the plant claims it’s providing as safety measures.

“We’ve required face coverings and have performed deep cleaning at a number of our facilities,” Gonzalez said in the video. “We spent countless hours working on social distancing measures, building dividers at a number of work stations, and expanding break rooms.”

Licolli said she thinks Tyson needs to do more because the procedures it has in place obviously aren’t working considering the outbreaks reported in other states.

“The reason they [the workers] do not feel safe enough is because they [Tyson plants] are not doing enough,” she said.

BELOW IS THE FULL STATEMENT FROM TYSON FOODS SPOKESPERSON WORTH SPARKMAN:

Our workplace safety efforts are significant and strictly enforced. We’re implementing social distancing in our plants based on CDC and industry guidance, such as increasing the distance between workers on the production floor, installing workstation dividers, and barriers in our breakrooms (example photos are attached). We’ve been evaluating and implementing ways to promote more social distancing in our plants. For example, at some locations we’re: 

  • Allowing more time between shifts to reduce worker interaction. 
  • Giving team members more space by erecting large tents to serve as outdoor break rooms. 
  • Removing chairs in some break rooms so there is more space between the workers. 
  • Eliminating conference room meetings and the size of new orientation classes. 

Our plant production areas are sanitized daily to ensure food safety, and we have significantly stepped up deep cleaning and sanitizing of our facilities, especially in employee breakrooms, locker rooms, and other areas to protect our team members. As an added precaution, we may sometimes suspend a day of production to complete an additional deep clean of facilities.

KNWA/KFTA also asked Sparkman about any reported COVID-19 cases in any NWA Tyson Foods’ facilities.

See his response, below:

We’ve had a limited number of team members test positive for COVID-19 and in each case we’re following guidance and requirements from the CDC, the U.S. Department of Health, the relevant local health department, and the USDA. We’re working with health officials to ensure anyone who had direct contact with them has been notified. Since this is an ever-changing situation, we’re not sharing specific numbers or locations.

WORTH SPARKMAN, TYSON FOODS SPOKESPERSON

To see Tyson Foods HR Operations Vice President Hector Gonzalez’s full video statement, click here.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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