By Conor McCue

GREELEY, Colo. (CBS4) – Two new billboards in Greeley will serve as a reminder that six workers at the nearby JBS plant have died this year due to COVID-19. The meat packing plant, which employs about 6,000 people, became home to one of the state’s biggest outbreaks at the beginning of April.

(credit: UFCW Local 7)

The billboards are both located in Greeley at 8th Avenue, south of D street and on Highway 34, just west of Highway 85. Both are paid for by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 7, which represents many employees.

“We want the community to know and to remember these workers,” said Kim Cordova, the president of UFCW Local 7.

The two billboards have been up since Thursday. They include the photos and names of the six UFCW Local 7 members who died from COVID-19:

• Saul Longoria Sanchez
• Tibursio Rivera López
• Eduardo Conchas de la Cruz
• Way Ler
• Daniel Avila Loma
• Tin Aye

“It’s really tragic what happened and it could have all been prevented in my opinion,” Cordova said.

On June 28, the union will hold a memorial event for all members to attend. It will include remarks from loved ones of the six members who died, community leaders, and more.

Following that, the group will take part in a drive-by procession, which will pass both billboards.

“They risked their lives when they went to work and they died and we want to have a memorial for them,” said Cordova.

(credit: CBS)

Moving forward, the union hopes to keep pushing for more worker protections. While cases have leveled off at the plant, Cordova tells CBS4 she is concerned about a potential second spike.

“This isn’t fake news, this isn’t a hoax, real people died from this,” She said. “Companies have to react quicker. We need enforceable and verifiable safety laws so this never happens. We need OSHA to come out to these facilities and do inspections.”

For Cordova, the fight for front line worker safety stems from a much bigger problem. Of the six deaths in Greeley, each employee was a person of color.

“It really falls into the systemic racism that we’re seeing throughout the country, where either workers of a different race or color are treated as disposable, and they’re not,” Cordova said.

JBS released the following statement regarding the billboards, as well as ongoing concerns from the union:

We support the tribute to the tragic loss of our team members posted by our local union. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families who have suffered during this pandemic, including those of the 1,647 Coloradans who have lost their lives. At JBS, our team members are family.

Over the last five months, COVID-19 has taken six of our Greeley beef team members, each of whom was beloved by their work family. We mourn their loss every day, and we grieve alongside the community, and most importantly, the families they leave behind.

As cases rise in many states across America, we all must continue to take the threat of coronavirus seriously. We have done everything we can to protect our team members while they are at work, implementing actions before receiving official guidance or direction in many instances. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment conducted a surprise inspection at the Greeley facility today, offering no suggested improvements to or criticisms of our current protocols. We agree with the union that the enhanced safety measures we have put in place must remain for the long term to protect our workforce as coronavirus continues to spread in our country.

We also believe we must face this shared threat together, recognizing that no one has all the answers but that we can defeat the virus with compassion, humility and partnership.

The socially-distanced gathering on Sunday will start with remarks at 11:30 a.m. at UFCW Local 7 Headquarters at 1006 9th Avenue in Greeley. At noon, the caravan will follow this route:

• Starting at the Union Office 1006 9th Ave.
• 11th St. West to 11th Ave
• 11th Ave North to H St.
• H St. East to 8th Ave Bus.85
• 8th Ave South to 22nd St.
• 22nd St. East to Hwy 85
• Hwy 85 South to Hwy 34
• Hwy 34 West to end at Intersection of Hwy 34 and 11th Ave.

Conor McCue

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