Tyson Foods adds social distancing monitors in processing facilities

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 999 views 

Maddie Nguyen is the new social distancing monitor at Tyson Foods’ Chicken-N-Quick processing plant in Rogers. This job did not exist prior to the coronavirus pandemic. (photo courtesy of Tyson Foods)

A new position of social distancing monitor at its processing plants is one way Tyson Foods continues to mitigate the risks of COVID-19 spread in its facilities and nearby communities. Tyson operates its processing facilities under rules from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health officials

Hector Gonzales, senior vice president of human resources at Tyson Foods U.S., said each facility has social distancing monitors who are typically hourly employees with good communication abilities, sufficient tenure to know their way around the plants, are most often multilingual, and comfortable talking to management.

The company, which has faced criticism for not doing enough to protect employees during the pandemic, said the new position was created as a tool to ensure employees maintain distances from one another in the workplace. The monitors move around the plant and intervene when necessary to remind fellow workers to follow the signs on the floors for maintaining distance.

Gonzales said as employees arrive at work they move through two phases of checkpoints that include temperature checks and donning protective gear required to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission. He said many of the new monitors have worked in food safety or quality control areas and know how to document the safety checks. Inside Tyson’s union facilities, Gonzales said the union conducts some of the training for the new social distancing monitors.

Recent plant-wide testing in Springdale’s Berry Street chicken slaughter and processing facility revealed 199 positive cases of COVID-19, but 198 of those were non-symptomatic. Tyson said all of the infected workers were to be quarantined for 14 days, regardless of symptoms and the cases will also be tracked to see if others were exposed from the non-symptomatic workers.

Tyson Foods’ pork and processing plants in the midwest have been hard hit by COVID-19. The company’s poultry plants have seen smaller impacts but several are operating at reduced capacity amid absenteeism and required quarantine of those who test positive.

Maddie Nguyen recently had her role as food safety and quality control technician expanded to include social distancing monitor at Tyson’s Chick-N-Quick facility in Rogers. Nguyen said the new part of her job is to screen and audit areas within the plant and to police the social distancing guidelines and wearing their protective gear by her co-workers.

“Part of my job is also making sure people wear their face coverings properly, which includes making sure the facial coverings fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face and over the nose, are secured with ties or ear loops, and allow for breathing without restriction,” Nguyen noted in her blog. “Everyone I encounter during my daily walkarounds appreciates the nod of reassurance I give them letting them know they are doing everything right.”

Gonzales said each facility has several social distancing monitors, though the company did not provide a number. He said the idea for the monitor came from safety meetings held several months ago when the company first began to try and mitigate the risks and spread of COVID-19 in its facilities.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union is one group calling on meatpackers, food retailers, healthcare and other industry sectors to do more, and asking Congress to require them to do more to protect workers.

“Our internal estimates have confirmed 225 of our members have tragically died and over 29,000 have been sick or been exposed. Some responsible employers like Cargill and Safeway, have done what is right. Others, including Amazon, Walmart, and even union employers like Kroger, have decided to put profits over people. The brutal reality is that far too many companies are failing to protect workers – and it is time that Democrats and Republicans step up and work together to do more,” The UFCW noted in a June 10 statement. “Millions of workers who lack access to paid sick days and paid family and medical leave are facing the devastating choice between risking their own health or risking the loss of a paycheck or job. Strong, anti-retaliation protections must be in place in order to ensure that workers who feel ill, or who are suffering from COVID-19, can remain at home, in quarantine for the full period of time recommended by the CDC, until it is safe to return to work. Without these actions I can promise you that more Americans will needlessly get sick and die.”