Updated: April 29, 2020 06:16 PM
Created: April 29, 2020 05:50 PM
At a news conference inside a crowded airport hangar in Worthington, Gov. Tim Walz promised to keep workers safe while heeding an order from President Donald Trump to reopen meatpacking plants such as the JBS pork processing facility.
“We need to be processing food for this country, we need to get these plants up and running,” Walz said. “It is a huge economic engine, but more than that, it is part of the culture of who we are.”
Those comments were largely echoed by congressmen Collin Peterson (D-Minnesota) and Jim Hagedorn (R-Minnesota) who also attended the news conference.
“I can tell you Tim and I are not going to support anything unless these workers are happy, safe and comfortable going back to work,” Peterson said.
While dozens of people crowded inside the hangar to hear what state leaders had to say, many others lined up outside in their cars, honking their horns in protest of President Trump’s order.
One of those people, a JBS employee who asked not to be identified, told 5 INVESTIGATES she and others received tentative notice that workers could be asked to return to the plant as soon as Wednesday or Thursday of next week.
“I’m scared,” the woman said in Spanish. “Because there’s no way to do social distancing (in some parts of the plant).”
Neither Gov. Walz or Congressman Peterson offered a firm timeline for re-opening the JBS plant. Matt Utecht, president of the UFCW Local 663 union called on the company to enact a range of safety and testing standards before opening the plant’s doors again.
“What does it look like to have a safe plant? What is the line speed look like? What does the social distancing look like? So, there are many issues that have to be addressed before the plant can reopen safely,” Utecht said.
UFCW Local 663 released a statement you can find here
JBS did not immediately respond to requests for comment from 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, but leaders at the news conference on Wednesday confirmed the plant destroyed 3,000 hogs that could not be processed.
“We want this plant open. We don’t want to kill hogs,” Peterson said.
Meanwhile, some pork producers said they were frustrated by a lack of firm answers on Wednesday. Greg Boerboom of the Minnesota Pork Producers Association traveled more than an hour from his farm in Marshall to attend the news conference.
“They talk about forming a task force. That means the answers and results are a long way off. I was disappointed in the amount of concrete information they shared,” Boerboom said.
Late Wednesday, a JBS spokesperson e-mailed the following statement:
"The men and women who feed America have gone unnoticed for far too long. The country is now rightly focused on their essential role in keeping grocery shelves stocked and helping feed families across our nation every day. Their health and safety remains our primary focus. To us, they have always been essential. We thank the Administration for acknowledging the important role food companies serve and ensuring that our food supply will remain resilient during these unprecedented times."
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