JBS pork plant reopens with added safety measures in Worthington, Minnesota

Trucks rolled in as staff returned to work at the JBS pork plant two weeks after the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Worthington plant added a list of additional safety measures, including more frequent sanitization and face shields for workers.

JBS was hoping for about 150 workers per shift, and about 125 showed up Wednesday.

“I think they’re feeling relatively good, given the circumstances, but I didn’t see any fear or any trepidation on any of the faces. It seemed to me they were eager to get back to work,” Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle said.

According to the new safety measures, workers must adhere to 21 disinfecting guidelines and more limited contact. Employees will also wear face masks and shields and must remain six feet apart.

Mayor Kuhle said he did see some workers did get turned away, apparently not passing the pre-screen required to enter. 

“They had three lines and a lady doing an interview with each one. I noticed they sent maybe four home,” he said. 

Meanwhile, Union President Matt Utecht said he wasn’t sure what else JBS could do to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“I feel good about what I saw today. I feel good about my conversations with workers,” he said.

Utecht said the hope was to slaughter 600 pigs per hour, which would have led to 11,000 total. But, a mechanical failure apparently put a major dent in that plan. At full capacity, the plant processes 20,000 pigs a day.

JBS said the future all depends on how employees respond. Meanwhile, the number of COVID-19 cases in Nobles County is a concern, as it’s currently the second highest in the state behind Hennepin County.

“I believe everyone is anxious right now. They have some worry about the future, they don’t want this to blow up again,” Mayor Kuhle said. 

For now, the plant is still having to euthanize pigs, but that will slow as processing ramps up.