A pair of whistleblowers has gone public regarding COVID-19 screening protocols at the JBS USA beef plant in Greeley, Colo.
According to the Greeley Tribune, the two women were brought into the JBS plant to screen employees for COVID-19 after a coronavirus outbreak.
The women say the screening equipment provided didn't function properly, employees were charged for the tests, and visibly ill employees were encouraged to work.
Sarah-Jean Buck is a licensed medical assistant who was hired through temp agency Medix to conduct the screenings starting May 10. Buck was in the role for about two months before she quit after being told that she should've cleared a visibly sick worker. According to the affidavit, Buck sent the worker home because she was symptomatic and couldn't afford to take the $100 COVID-19 test — which workers had to pay for out of pocket if insurance didn't cover it.
In the affidavit, Buck also says that supervisors helped employees come up with excuses for symptoms. For example, they asked workers with a cough if they slept with the window open, which would justify the symptom.
In a statement to the Greeley Tribune, JBS disputed the "unsubstantiated claims from a disgruntled temporary employee." The company says its screening process has been reviewed and approved by multiple authorities, including the CDC.
Another temporary worker, Erica Villegas, alleges that JBS did little to accommodate non-English speaking employees.
Both former temp employees experienced issues with temperature guns at the screening checkpoint, including frequent irregular readings from 84.7 to 107 degrees Fahrenheit, but they were brushed off by safety personnel. Buck even admits that she broke the gun by accidentally dropping it and couldn't read the temperature on the display, but was told to carry on.
The outbreak at JBS in Colorado infected 294 employees. Six workers died. On Sept. 16, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which represents workers at JBS, staged a protest outside of the plant after OSHA issued levied a $15,615 fine following the outbreak and deaths. The union called the fine “insulting” and “ineffectual.”
Last week, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment declared the outbreak officially over at the meatpacking plant after no new COVID-19 cases had been linked to the plant for four weeks.
According to Reuters, at least three of the JBS workers who died of COVID-19 were denied workers' compensation benefits. The company says the COVID-19 infections, and resulting deaths, were not work related. The issue raises concerns as more Americans are returning to the workplace.
According to JBS, it has had only two positive cases in the past eight weeks and only 13 cases in May and June. The company says that its protocols and interventions, including screening processes, have limited potential introduction of COVID-19 in the facility despite ongoing community spread.