Tyson Foods said Wednesday (April 22) it plans to indefinitely suspend operations at its Waterloo, Iowa, pork processing plant amid raised concern for worker safety and the community as COVID-19 cases rise.
The plant will close this week and will remain shuttered until further notice, the company said. The plant’s 2,800 employees will be asked to come back to the plant on Friday for COVID-19 testing. Tyson said the plant has been running at reduced levels because of worker absenteeism. The employees will be compensated during the furlough.
“Protecting our team members is our top priority and the reason we’ve implemented numerous safety measures during this challenging and unprecedented time,” said Steve Stouffer, group president of Tyson Fresh Meats. “Despite our continued efforts to keep our people safe while fulfilling our critical role of feeding American families, the combination of worker absenteeism, COVID-19 cases and community concerns has resulted in our decision to stop production.”
Stouffer said the closure has significant ramifications beyond Tyson since the plant is part of a larger supply chain that includes hundreds of independent farmers, truckers, distributors and customers, including grocers.
“It means the loss of a vital market outlet for farmers and further contributes to the disruption of the nation’s pork supply,” he noted.
The closure of the Waterloo plant comes as the community has called for it. Tyson reopened a pork processing plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa, on Tuesday after operations were suspended for two weeks because of COVID-19 impacts.
Tyson said it formed a task force in January to work on safety protocols regarding COVID-19, having first seen the impacts in its China operations. The company began testing employee temperatures, required protective clothing be worn, and enforced social distancing in common areas of the plants.
Tyson said its other meat and poultry plants are operating, but some of them are running at reduced levels of production relating to COVID-19 safety protocols and worker absenteeism.
Shares of Tyson Foods (NYSE: TSN) traded lower on Wednesday at $60.09, down 2.96% from the prior day. Over the past 52 weeks, Tyson shares have traded between $42.57 and $94.24. Tyson shares are down 33% year to date.