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Laid off workers return to Jennie-O as company looks to rebound from bird flu


Jennie-O Turkey had a rough quarter, which the company is attributing to the devastating bird flu – but some workers that were laid off earlier this year have gotten their jobs back.

In its latest earnings report, Austin-based Hormel Foods – which owns Jennie-O – says the "substantial impact" of the avian flu outbreak resulted in a 45 percent drop in operating profit from the same time a year ago. Volume was down 16 percent, and dollar sales were down 12 percent.

Meanwhile, "about 65" employees who were laid off at the Jennie-O plant in Faribault have returned to work, KSTP reports.

While this still leaves a significant amount of people out of work – 233 employees were temporarily dismissed in May – the turkey producer expects that the number of workers called back to the plant will continue to grow "in the coming weeks."

According to a press release, a number of employees are working a "modified second shift" as Jennie-O works on getting things back to normal; however, the company says "fewer than 135 people" are still on layoff.

"Our processing schedules have allowed us to bring some of our valued employees back to work," Plant Manager Randy Vergin said in the release. "While the increase in staffing will be gradual, we still consider this layoff a temporary situation and our intent is to return our entire team back to work as soon as we can."

Earlier this month, the Star Tribune reported Jennie-O was "steadily repopulating" its turkey farms, 52 of which were slammed by the avian flu in Minnesota alone.

The Willmar-based brand seems to have gotten lucky with its hatcheries and breeder farms, with only one affected during the outbreak, the paper said.

Hormel earnings up

Jennie O's parent company Hormel pegged its overall net earnings for the third quarter at nearly $147 million – a 6 percent jump from the same time last year.

And while avian influenza – which has wreaked havoc on Minnesota's commercial turkey farms, including many that supply Jennie-O – has led to decreased revenues for Hormel, the company's earnings report suggests overall profit is going up, according to MPR.

Hormel CEO Jeff Ettinger told the news service he expects Jennie-O's profits to drop again in the next quarter. A quick scan of the turkey producer's website however shows the company has more than a dozen new positions open.

These include jobs in farm operations and "production" posts.

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