Skip to main content

Union expresses safety concerns as Jennie-O plants reopen after coronavirus outbreak

Two Jennie-O facilities had closed due to COVID-19 outbreaks among workers.
Jennie-O Turkey

A union representing meatpacking workers have expressed safety concerns over the reopening of meat processing plants across the U.S. in the wake of President Donald Trump's executive order, including two in Minnesota.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), which represents more than 250,000 meatpacking and food processing workers, says that the facilities are being rushed into reopening and that there remain "serious safety issues."

It references two Minnesota plants that have reopened in recent days following significant outbreaks of COVID-19: JBS USA in Worthington and Jennie-O Turkey in Willmar.

Jennie-O confirmed on Thursday and Friday that two of its Minnesota facilities that had been temporarily closed, its Benson Avenue plant in Willmar and one in Melrose, were reopening. It came in the same week that JBS USA opened up in a limited capacity following an outbreak that has fueled 1,255 confirmed cases of the virus in Nobles County.

In Minnesota, the Department of Health has been working with plants to help bring them back online, with the UFCW Local 63 involved in developing a safety plan to protect workers at the Worthington plant as operations resumed.

This plan included separating workers on the production line using dividers, rigorous disinfecting protocols, and erecting a tent outside to give people more space during lunch.

But the UFCW argues that the two Minnesota plants and a dozen other major meat processing plants in other states are being rushed into reopening despite a lack of "clear and enforceable safety standards" imposed by the federal government.

It is calling on the White House to ensure each facility is provided with the "highest level of protective equipment, ensure daily testing is available for all meatpacking workers, enforce physical distancing at all plants, provide full paid sick leave for any workers who are infected, and establish constant monitoring by federal inspectors to ensure these safety standards are enforced."

Sign up for our BREAKING NEWS newsletters

The Jennie-O Turkey Store facilities in Melrose and Willmar reopened with limited workers at the end of last week, and will be ramping up its production and bringing more workers back in the coming days.

The company is also working on the reopening of its other Willmar plant, on Willmar Avenue.

"We remain committed to our industry-leading efforts to maintain and enhance safety protections for our team members and this community," Steve Lykken, president of Jennie-O Turkey Store said.

"We have put the safety of our staff first throughout this pandemic and will continue to do so. Now that we have reopened our Benson Avenue plant, our team is turning its attention and efforts to our new awareness initiative called KEEP COVID OUT!

"This campaign reinforces the preventative measures throughout our facility and the efforts of our team members to keep COVID-19 outside of our building and out of our communities. COVID-19 affects all of us and we must work together to stop its spread, both at the workplace and outside of work."

Next Up

Screen Shot 2023-01-27 at 7.45.44 PM

Protest for Tyre Nichols to be held outside MN Governor’s Mansion

Activists groups say they’ll call on Gov. Tim Walz and the Legislature to implement police reforms.


Minnesota pool contractor banned from industry, must pay $2 million-plus

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison filed suit against Charles Workman and his company, MN Crete Pools, LLC, in August.

Minneapolis police

St. Paul man identified as victim of north Minneapolis homicide

The shooting occurred on the 2200 block of Emerson Avenue North on Wednesday.


Two youths seriously injured after being struck by driver in Bloomington

Police say the boy is in a critical condition, while the girl has severe injuries.

Rosedale Center

Two men sentenced for carjacking in Rosedale Center parking lot

Leon Kismit Bell, 49, and Jack Mitchell Piche, 23, were sentenced in U.S. District Court on Jan. 20.

Screen Shot 2023-01-27 at 3.59.30 PM

Police identify White Bear Lake officer shot while serving warrant

The officer is a six-year veteran of the department.

abortion, planned parenthood

Minnesota Senate passes bill codifying abortion into state law

Having already passed in the House, it will now be sent to Gov. Tim Walz for signing into law.

Screen Shot 2023-01-27 at 7.45.44 PM

Tyre Nichols: Initial police version of events bear similarities to George Floyd killing

Memphis PD said Nichols complained of 'shortness of breath' following 'confrontations' with police, who in reality violently beat him.

George Floyd, protest

Twin Cities authorities preparing for community reaction to Tyre Nichols video

The ATF division in St. Paul sent out an alert out of "an abundance of caution."


Screen Shot 2020-04-21 at 5.51.17 PM

Coronavirus cases confirmed at Jennie-O plant in Willmar

Jennie-O has confirmed the cases at the turkey plant in central Minnesota.

Governor Tim Walz

Amid more reported outbreaks at MN meat plants, Walz heads to Worthington

Walz is visiting the home of the shuttered JBS USA pork plant, where there has been a major COVID-19 outbreak.

jennie-o willmar

Hormel will close Jennie-O Turkey plant in Willmar

Workers will be transferred to the other plant in Willmar.

Department of Human Services

Minnesota turns the COVID dial, allows disability day services to reopen

The services were shut down in March at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak.

JBS Pork

JBS USA announces closure of coronavirus-hit Worthington plant

The pork processing plant has seen a growing number of cases.

JBS Pork

JBS pork plant in Worthington set to partially re-open this week

The plant has been shut down since a major coronavirus outbreak.

Meridian Manor

Wayzata care home closing down after coronavirus outbreak

Long-term care facilities have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Screen Shot 2020-05-17 at 10.33.50 PM

AG Ellison sues Stearns County bar owner who plans to open

Bars and restaurants are still subject to a mandatory shutdown due to COVID-19.