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JBS Pork Plant Among Meat Packing Plants Facing Scrutiny From OSHA, Congress, For COVID Outbreaks

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) - The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is expected to brief lawmakers on Monday in an investigation into COVID-19 outbreaks at meat packing plants across the country.

The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis wants to know what happened that lead to the deaths of more than 250 employees and more than 50,000 infections.

It includes at least two deaths traced to the JBS plant in Worthington.

WCCO looked into what's changed in the last year and explains why the threat of sickness still isn't over.

"It has been challenging for many families especially in Worthington," A Worthington resident and interpreter, Jose Lamas said.

At one point this past spring, nearly half of JBS's 2,000 workers in Worthington tested positive for COVID-19. By summer, the company had made major changes directing employee's movements and keeping them separated in a typically crowded workspace.

Still, some employees have been infected since.

With the help of an interpreter, Rosibel Maldonado explained that her husband is fighting the virus. A JBS employee for 23 years, the 56-year-old tested positive last month. He's been in the hospital for the last week.

"She came to me and was looking for resources in the community," Lamas said.

Rubén Maldonado has told his wife that he is much more comfortable with the protocol at the plant.

"The only thing is when they go to eat and the lockers and bathrooms, there are a lot of people that work there and make it more difficult," Lamas explained for Maldonado.

In DC, lawmakers want to know the role JBS, Smithfield, and Tyson Foods had in what the inquiry calls their failure to adequately carry out worker safety laws resulting in preventable infections and deaths.

In a statement to WCCO, JBS said it welcomes the investigation:

"Since the onset of the pandemic, it has invested more than $200 million in health and safety interventions, $160 million in bonuses and permanent increased pay, and donated more than $50 million to support local communities."

JBS added that that currently one tenth of 1% of its workforce has COVID.

For those who do, there are still questions about the company's treatment of employees.

"She said her husband had to use vacation time," Lamas said.

Rosibel hopes her husband will be out of the hospital soon.

"She's the only provider in the home so it's difficult for her," Lamas explained.

JBS told WCCO it covers 100% of all COVID-related health expenses for employees enrolled in its health plan.

But, a Reuters investigation found Minnesota meatpacking employees filed 930 workers compensation claims with the Department of Labor and Industry.

More than 700 were rejected saying it's been difficult to determine exactly where an infection comes from.

To help the Maldonado family, click here.

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