(CBS4) – U.S. lawmakers have launched an investigation into worker safety at meatpacking plants during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the JBS plant in Colorado. The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis is examining employee outbreaks and deaths along with the response from meatpacking companies and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

(CBS)

Since the pandemic began, 465 JBS employees in Greeley have tested positive for COVID-19, according to UFCW Local 7. The union reports six UFCW Local 7 members and one JBS employee have died from the virus.

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Rep. James E. Clyburn, Chairman of the House Subcommittee, sent letters to OSHA and JBS USA requesting documentation of their COVID-19 response. The letter to JBS says in part:

“Public reports indicate that meatpacking companies, including JBS, have refused to take basic precautions to protect their workers, many of whom earn extremely low wages and lack adequate paid leave, and have shown a callous disregard for workers’ health. These actions appear to have resulted in thousands of meatpacking workers getting infected with the virus and hundreds dying.”

(credit: UFCW Local 7)

Kim Cordova, President of UFCW Local 7, issued the following statement:

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“Local 7 calls on the House Select Subcommittee to take a thorough look at the JBS Greeley meat packing plant’s operations, and all of the plants throughout the country, and to hold OSHA accountable for allowing these workers to be systemically treated like disposable widgets. Our members are the Essential Workers and who have kept the country fed, yet nearly a year in the pandemic, continue to work without adequate safety protocols and PPE, and in the case of JBS Greeley, with a 36% increase in healthcare premiums during a pandemic. Both OSHA and the meat packing companies should honor their general duty to provide safe working conditions for these Essential Heroes.”

CBS4 reached out to JBS officials for comment on the investigation. In a statement to the Greeley Tribune, JBS said that it plans to share safety protocols with the House panel.

The company recently announced it would provide a $100 incentive bonus to any U.S. team member who voluntarily chooses to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. JBS officials also say they offer the following safety measures to employees:

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  • Screening and temperature checking prior to facility entry
  • Staggering start times and break times to promote physical distancing
  • Requiring the use of masks and face shields,
  • Erecting physical barriers where possible
  • Installing UV germicidal air sanitation and plasma bipolar ionization technologies to neutralize potential viruses in the air

According to a news release, the company has also conducted more than 35,000 free random surveillance tests of asymptomatic team members to help quickly identify COVID-19 cases. In total, the company says it has invested more than $200 million in health and safety measures and more than $160 million in increased wages and bonuses for employees.

Audra Streetman