SPRINGDALE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Poultry plants in Northwest Arkansas continue to churn out food despite a rise in COVID-19 infections throughout the industry’s employee population. A group protested working conditions, calling them inhumane.
“We’re gonna begin the march on Emma and Thompson, and we are gonna bring huge puppets and art so we can uplift the voices of poultry workers,” said Magaly Licolli, the organizer of Venceremos, the activist group.
The latest Dept. of Health statistics show there’s nearly 600 active cases among poultry workers. More than half of the positive cases are in the Hispanic community, which the state’s targeted as a group that needs more education about masks and guidelines. Licolli said the state’s missing the mark.
“The plants are discouraging workers to take another test, and then they are forcing them to come back to work,” Licolli said.
Company administrators indicated they’re doing what they can to limit the spread while also following an federal executive order that forces plants to stay open.
“We limit visitors and vendors, outside people coming into the plants,” said Dan Henson, senior vice president of operations for Simmons Foods. “We’ve got the policies where they have to wear masks, wear gloves when we’re doing paperwork.”
Tyson, which leads the industry in Northwest Arkansas, said it’s making an effort to provide needed education.
“We are education our team members to ensure that they understand the risk factors and the preventative measures that they can take to ensure their safety not just at work but at home,” said Hector Gonzales, senior vice president of human resources for Tyson.
Licolli said the plants must do a better job of quarantining and taking necessary steps to keep people from infecting each other at work.
“We talked about that this was the beginning of a catastrophe,” Licolli said. “Right now, we are seeing this catastrophe happening.”