Smithfield in Crete changes plan, will not stop operations

Published: Apr. 27, 2020 at 4:16 PM CDT
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Smithfield foods in Crete has changed its plans and has decided not to close down as COVID-19 cases continue to rise among workers at the plant.

Tuesday night President Trump signed an executive order compelling meat processing plants to stay open amid COVID-19, those plants are being called essential.

Smithfield Foods workers in Crete were told they would be halting production after dozens of workers there contracted COVID-19.

Hours later they were told they were staying open.

According to an email sent to employees, a "new plan" was announced, stating the plant will not be shutting down but rather reducing hours and production.

The email states some departments will work different parts of the day, with some leaving at lunch.

Tuesday 10/11 Now spoke with a women who works at the plant and requested to remain anonymous.

She says the plant made changes about two weeks ago but says she doesn't feel the safety measures are keeping employees safe.

Smithfield Food in Crete employs over two thousand workers. On Monday it told employees they're closing down.

"I was happy about it but then I went to work the next day and I heard that they weren't shutting down I was really mad," said the employee.

The woman says she saw people protesting outside the plant. She says she'd like to take a leave of absence but doesn't want to lose her job.

"They said if we wanna leave we can leave but it's like quitting," said the employee.

Smithfield Foods did not immediately respond for a request to comment. It did, however, post a video on their Facebook page showing steps they have taken in plants across the U.S. adding temperature stations, PPE gear and dividers in between employees.

"We're like five people on the line or more and it's really close and we don't have room at all," said the employee.

Governor Ricketts says his office has been in contact with Smithfield executives and that he is encouraging them to follow protocol installed in places like Grand Island.

The woman says she didn't see changes at work to let workers keep their distance and she says many in her same situation cannot stop working because they need to support their families.

"It makes me feel like they don't care about us," said the employee. "That they just care about the money and the production. They don't care about whats happening to us or what we think about it."

The National Guard has been in Crete conducting COVID-19 testing for free. The woman says those working in the plant are encouraged to get tested but at this time it is not a requirement.

On Monday, an email sent from Smithfield to employees was given to 1011 NOW, and said all operations at the plant were shut down for at least two weeks.

Lincoln/Lancaster County Health Director Pat Lopez also said at the City of Lincoln daily press conference operations would be stopped at Smithfield.

As of Sunday, there were 47 positive tests of COVID-19 at Smithfield as testing was ramped up by both the Nebraska National Guard and Bryan Health.

As cases of Coronavirus rise in Nebraska, the counties that are seeing the fastest growth of COVID-19 cases, have major meat packing plants.

There's Hall County, that's Grand Island, has gone from 16 cases on April 1, to 899. Grand Island is home to JBS meat packing plant.

In Dakota County, in Northeast Nebraska, didn't see it's first case until April 12, now it has 608. Dakota County is home to a Tyson packing plant.

"These plants are ticking time bombs," Joe Enriquez Henry, with the League of United Latin American Citizens said.