COVID-19 cases rising again at Smithfield plant as standards relax, union leader says


Sonya Swink, Sioux Falls Argus Leader (SD)

Jan 7, 2022


Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, spent hundreds of millions of dollars and assigned a team of dedicated employees to enforce social distancing and sanitize surfaces last year after the Sioux Falls plant became the site of one of the nation's largest COVID-19 outbreaks early in the pandemic.


Those monitor roles have since been cut, right as cases of COVID-19 increase nationwide; in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and at that Smithfield plant, union leaders say.


In a statement to Reuters, China-owned Smithfield Foods confirmed that it shifted the monitors' duties to other personnel starting in the second part of 2021 after vaccines became more available and the routines became “second nature.”


United Food & Commercial Workers Union leader B.J. Motley told the Argus Leader that many workers at Smithfield have COVID-19 once again. The company has been doing daily testing as the Omicron variant rises, but monitor duties were cut, he said.


“We have seen a drastic rise in cases in the last two weeks,” Motley said…


… Jim Monroe, the vice president of corporate affairs for Smithfield Foods told the Argus Leader the company has "in now way rolled back COVID-19 safety protocols."


"We have invested more than $800 million to protect our team from COVID-19, hosted approximately 200 on-site vaccine drives and continue to follow all CDC and OSHA guidelines," Monroe said.


Smithfield Foods did not confirm how many workers have tested positive at the Sioux Falls plant. Motley told the Argus Leader that there were over 80 confirmed cases at the plant as of Jan. 7, though that number is likely skewed due to a lack or reporting, he added.


But Motley told Reuters the cleaning enforcements have relaxed...