By Dillon Thomas

GREELEY, Colo. (CBS4)– Nearly 2,600 employees at JBS USA meatpacking plant in Greeley were paid to get their COVID-19 vaccines on Friday, with potentially 500 more ready to get their shot on Saturday. After a year of outbreaks, deaths and criticism from the public, JBS was able to work with Gov. Jared Polis and the UFCW Local 7 workers union to secure vaccines for plant employees.

JBS Greeley Beef plant in Greeley March 5, 2021

(credit:Alex McIntyre/The Greeley Tribune)

“JBS is the largest employer in Weld County. These workers are responsible for supplying food to our communities. And, they have worked through this entire pandemic. They have been on the front line. This is so important,” said Kim Cordova, president of the workers union.

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Cordova said a lot of work went into securing the Pfizer vaccines for the plant workers in Greeley and thanked Polis for helping them do so. To administer the vaccines, the plant was shut down for the first time since last April, when an outbreak forced the facility to close.

Six JBS employees from the Greeley plant died due to COVID-19, and many others fell ill. A manager for the company said that the past 12 months were “very hard” for JBS.

JBS employee Myryam Tapia, left, receives the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from registered nurse Laurie Tanner, right, during a two-day COVID-19 vaccination clinic inside the JBS Greeley Beef plant in Greeley March 5, 2021.

JBS employee Myryam Tapia, left, receives the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from registered nurse Laurie Tanner, right, during a two-day COVID-19 vaccination clinic inside the JBS Greeley Beef plant in Greeley March 5, 2021. (credit: Alex McIntyre/The Greeley Tribune)

Agustina Gordo, an employee at the plant, told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas the workers were feeling more confident now with their vaccines.

“We are all thinking positive,” Gordo said. “Hopefully we will not have any more deaths. It is a big company, with a lot of workers and a lot of families that can get the illness. I feel safer for my family, for my coworkers.”

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Polis toured portions of the facility alongside JBS management and Cordova. Cordova said employees were thrilled to be given paid time, and a $100 bonus, for the vaccine event.

“There’s a sense of some relief, it has been very emotional,” Cordova said. “They are members of our community. And, it is important that we put in all safety interventions for our workers who work with these types of working conditions in this health crisis.”

Polis was highly critical of the JBS operation at the start of the pandemic. The outbreak was even specifically addressed by Pres. Donald Trump at The White House last summer.

Kaiser Permanente medical assistant Liz Negron applies a bandage after giving JBS employee Enrique Estrada his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine during a two-day COVID-19 vaccination clinic inside the JBS Greeley Beef plant in Greeley March 5, 2021.

Kaiser Permanente medical assistant Liz Negron applies a bandage after giving JBS employee Enrique Estrada his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine during a two-day COVID-19 vaccination clinic inside the JBS Greeley Beef plant in Greeley March 5, 2021. (credit: Alex McIntyre/The Greeley Tribune)

When asked about his thoughts on how the company handled the outbreaks in 2020, Polis declined to give a direct answer. He said it wasn’t time to “play Monday morning quarterback.” Instead, he said he would spend the day celebrating the advances in science and access to the vaccines while electing to review and analyze JBS’s initial response to the pandemic another day.

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“Our hard-hit workers at our meat processing facilities will be fully protected from the deadly coronavirus,” Polis said.

Dillon Thomas