JBS pauses operations at Greeley beef plant during vaccine clinic for workers

By: - March 5, 2021 7:00 pm

JBS employee Enrique Estrada, right, flashes a thumbs-up to the media after receiving his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from Kaiser Permanente medical assistant Liz Negron, left, during a two-day COVID-19 vaccination clinic inside the JBS beef plant in Greeley on March 5, 2021. (Alex McIntyre/The Greeley Tribune, pool)

Operations at the JBS meatpacking plant in Greeley paused Friday to allow workers to get vaccinated for the coronavirus. The vaccination clinic included a visit from Gov. Jared Polis and Colorado Department of Agriculture Commissioner Kate Greenberg.

Employees made their way past safety measures now in place at the plant, including signs in multiple languages and images that cut across language barriers. The signs and images helped screen workers for virus symptoms and reminded them to stay distanced and masked.

Inside the plant, workers went to vaccine stations at tables lined up along a large hallway. Many of them wore their work hats of varying colors, which indicate positions or supervisory roles.

The state has prioritized vaccines for the state’s critical food and agriculture workers, who number more than 220,000.

“Throughout this challenging year, our frontline food and agricultural workers have been critical to keeping our food supply up running and supporting our economy,” Polis said in a statement.

Andre Nogueira, the CEO of JBS USA, said vaccines provided “an additional layer of protection to our team members.”

“We decided to halt operations at the Greeley beef plant today and tomorrow to provide the opportunity of vaccination to thousands of our team members from our operations across Colorado — from Denver to Greeley to Lafayette,” Nogueira said in a statement.

The Greeley plant was the site of one of the most notable COVID-19 outbreaks in Colorado. There were 294 cases and six COVID deaths at the plant last year, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined JBS more than $15,000 for failing to protect employees, according to The Denver Post.

Kim Cordova, president of the United Food And Commercial Workers Union Local 7, which represents JBS workers, alluded to the outbreak in a statement Friday. “Our 3,000 Union members, who were quickly deemed essential workers when this pandemic began, have disproportionately experienced the dangers of this virus — losing coworkers, family members and friends to this awful disease. Access to the vaccine is the first of many steps that will need to be taken to stop the continued spread of this virus and keep these essential workers safe.”

Among the JBS workers who received their first doses of the vaccine was Luis Arellano, who celebrated a recent birthday.

“What a present,” clinic worker Liz Negron said as she prepared Arellano for the vaccine.

Before administering the vaccine, clinic workers asked JBS employees to confirm they were not sick and had not yet received the vaccine.

Rudy Maldonado, an IT manager for JBS, smiled nearly the entire time as he sat down for the shot and received it.

“Not bad at all,” he said after receiving the vaccine. “Super.”

After receiving their doses, workers were given immunization cards informing them of when they’d receive their second dose. They were directed to an observation area down the hall, where doctors and nurses watched vaccine recipients for 15 minutes, in case of adverse reactions.

Polis and Greenberg also visited a COVD-19 vaccination clinic at the Cargill meatpacking plant in Fort Morgan on Friday.

This story includes pool reporting by the Greeley Tribune’s Trevor Reid.

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