Tyson Fresh Meats, the beef and pork subsidiary of Tyson Foods Inc., announced April 22 that it plans to indefinitely suspend operations at its Waterloo, Iowa, pork plant due to the impact of COVID-19.
The facility, which processes approximately 19,500 hogs per day and is the company’s largest pork plant, has been running at reduced levels of production due to worker absenteeism but will stop production midweek until further notice. The facility’s 2,800 team members will be invited to come to the plant later this week for COVID-19 testing.
“Protecting our team members is our top priority and the reason we’ve implemented numerous safety measures during this challenging and unprecedented time,” Tyson Fresh Meats group president Steve Stouffer said. “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 the company, 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 explained.
Affected Waterloo team members will continue to be compensated while the plant is closed. The timing of resumption of operations will depend on a variety of factors, including the outcome of team member testing for COVID-19.
Tyson Foods has been focused on COVID-19 since January, when it formed a company coronavirus task force. It has since implemented numerous measures to protect workers. It was one of the first food companies to start taking workers' temperatures. Tyson started efforts to secure a supply of protective face coverings before the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention recommended them and now requires their use in all facilities. In an effort to promote social distancing, plants like Waterloo have installed workstation dividers and are providing more breakroom space.
Tyson's other meat and poultry plants currently continue to operate, but some are running at reduced levels of production due to either the planned implementation of additional worker safety precautions or worker absenteeism. Just two days ago, the company announced that its plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa, was resuming operation after being idle for two weeks.