GREEN BAY AREA REGIONAL NEWS: Brown County

Advocates for meatpacking workers speak up as coronavirus cases in Brown County meat plants continue to rise

Coronavirus

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – In response to an increasing number of coronavirus cases in Brown County’s meatpacking plants, a virtual press conference was hosted Friday by Opportunity Wisconsin and Protect Our Care Wisconsin.

At that press conference, American Foods Group employee Raquel Alvardo told her story, “I did work for a whole week not knowing that I was positive with COVID-19.”

She said that she tested positive on April 11 after a week of working at American Foods Group with a cough.

Alvarado said she’s “terrified to go back to work now. I might be going back to work next week.”

203 employees at American Foods Group have tested positive for the virus, but so far JBS is the only meat processing plant in Green Bay to close.

President Trump signed an executive order Tuesday, ordering meat processing plants to remain open, an action Green Bay’s mayor denounced Friday.

“It’s reckless and it’s dangerous,” Mayor Eric Genrich said, “and it speaks to this President’s complete and total inability to relate to or care about regular people here in Green Bay, the state of Wisconsin, and across the United States.”

The mayor said that the industry and its workers are essential.

“Food processing and meat packing is incredibly vital work and it’s a big part of this community, and our economy, and our heritage. We named a certain NFL team after it,” he said.

But because regulations set by the CDC were not mandatory, officials on the call say essential employees were not properly protected.

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“So employers can choose not to follow what the CDC says or they can implement it, and in the meatpacking industry and other parts of the food industry, they did not implement it,” former Senior Policy Advisor at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Deborah Berkowitz said.

Regulations can also be set at the local or state level, and a pair of initiatives to protect essential workers and immigrant workers are reportedly in the works.

“We think this is important because we think this could be a template for other cities across Wisconsin to really build support, local support for essential workers,” Christine Neumann-Ortiz, Executive Director at Voces de la Frontera said.

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