Smithfield, Virginia-based Smithfield Foods Inc. announced today that it will close its Patrick Cudahy dry sausage and bacon plant in Cudahy for two weeks, beginning later this week. Some employees at the plant have tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus, the company said.
The move comes as the company closes its plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which has been hit by a massive outbreak of the coronavirus. The South Dakota Department of Health said 518 Smithfield Foods employees have tested positive for COVID-19. About 3,700 people work at the plant. One of them died from COVID-19, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reported. The plant is now the biggest hotspot for the virus in the U.S.
Smithfield Foods is also shutting down a plant in Missouri, which receives raw materials from the Sioux Falls facility.
The company said a “small number” of employees at the Cudahy and Missouri plants have tested positive for COVID-19.
A spokesperson for the company could immediately be reached.
Employees at the plants will be paid for the next two weeks during which time "rigorous deep cleaning and sanitization that have been ongoing at the facilities," will be done at the plants, the company said.
“We are doing everything in our power to help protect our team members from COVID-19 in the workplace," Kenneth M. Sullivan, president and chief executive officer, for Smithfield Foods said in a news release. "This starts with stringent and detailed processes and protocols that follow the strict guidance of the CDC and extends to things like the use of thermal scanning, personal protective equipment and physical barriers, to name a few. We are also being explicit with employees: ‘Do not report to work if you are sick or exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms. You will be paid.’”
Union members at the Cudahy plant criticized the company last month for continuing to operate after the union said two employees tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a report from WISN-TV Channel 12, a media partner of BizTimes Milwaukee.
A letter to Phil Maher, manager of labor relations and benefits for Patrick Cudahy, from John Eiden, president and international vice president of United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 1473, obtained by WISN-TV reporter Derrick Rose, criticized the company's decision to shut down the plant entirely saying, "It doesn't make sense for a total plant shutdown at this time...What does make sense at this time is a targeted shutdown of individual departments during which time effected employees will be paid in full."
In the letter, Eiden says the company should clean work areas thoroughly and provide additional safety measures including: boot sanitation/boot scrubbers, require employees to wear masks, provide plexiglass face shields for employees, install plexiglass dividers and require employees to wear rubber gloves. In addition, employees should receive $2 per hour in premium pay for working during the coronavirus pandemic, he said.
Smithfield Foods said it will resume operations in Sioux Falls once it receives further direction from local, state and federal officials. That would also allow the company to bring its Missouri facility back online, the company said.
Smithfield agreed to acquire Patrick Cudahy Inc. in 1984.