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Family buries worker on same day JBS shuts down plant

Four employees at the JBS meatpacking plant in Greeley died after testing positive for COVID-19 and more than 100 workers there are sick.

GREELEY, Colo. — A fourth employee at the JBS meatpacking plant in Greeley has died of COVID-19. The state now said more than 100 workers there are sick, making the temporarily-closed facility one of Colorado's hotspots for the novel coronavirus.

Saul Longoria Sanchez, who worked at the facility for 30 years, is one of the workers who died. He died on April 7. Now, his family wants to know what the company is doing to protect the rest of its workers. 

Beatriz Rangel is his daughter. She said she remembers Sanchez as an encouraging, loving and hardworking man. 

"[He] had the same story a lot of migrants do," she said. "Coming here, wanting a better life for his family."

On Wednesday, his family held his viewing and burial. Rangel said that while he had six children and 13 grandchildren, only 12 people were allowed in his viewing. 

For the burial, Rangel said only very close family was invited. 

"We’ve asked them to drive by, have a moment of silence and keep going," she said. "We had so many people I think like 800 something that wanted to attend and we had to say no."

Credit: Beatriz Rangel
Saul Longoria Sanchez

Sanchez was willing to work during the COVID-19 pandemic because he trusted his employer, his family members said.

"When I called to let them know that he was sick, and to let the rest of the employees know he was positive, I got no response," said Rangel. 

It's been tough for her because she said her father dedicated 30 years of his life to this company.

"My dad was 78-years-old," said Rangel, "He was in the older generation risk category."

Rangel said she agrees with the farm workers rights organization, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), who are asking for more masks, tests, paid sick leave and better communication with workers and their families. 

LULAC National President Domingo Garcia said they're asking for every employee to be tested. 

"We expect that when it opens again every worker will have a mask, will have the Plexiglas and other sanitation efforts to deep clean the plant."

In a statement, JBS said they will take employees' temperature and have people wear masks when they return to work. 

RELATED: State releasing facility-level data on COVID-19 cases at long-term care, other facilities

RELATED: JBS meatpacking plant in Greeley closes

Several current employees told 9NEWS they had not received their paychecks while they were out sick. 

"If anyone is having issues being paid, it’s likely due to a process or paperwork issue," wrote Nikki Richardson with JBS in an email. 

Richardson said JBS employees with questions or concerns should call the company's COVID-19 hotline at 1-888-267-3447. She also said plant employees in good standing will receive a $600 bonus on May 15.

The company spent Tuesday and Wednesday winding down operations with a diminished staff at the plant. All employees were required to wear masks, according to Richardson. 

"It took time to secure thermometers and masks due to global demand and supply chain issues," wrote Richardson. 

JBS said the company will adhere to social distancing when the plant reopens. 

Kim Cordova with the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW) said social distancing could be hard or “almost impossible because workers in that industry work elbow to elbow."

Cordova said she's frustrated because she is no longer hearing from the company. 

"Since the media became involved and we started reporting 1,000 employees a day calling off sick or not reporting to work, the company has cut off all contact with us, they're barely responding to all of our emails," Cordova said.

Here is the full statement from JBS:

"Attached are the safety measures implemented in the Greeley beef production facility to date. Most of these have been in place for a few weeks, though it took time to secure thermometers and masks due to global demand and supply chain issues. At this time, all team members are required to wear masks and everyone is temperature checked before entering the facility every day. There are also plexiglass dividers in key areas and a large tent to increase spacing during lunch and breaks.

We spent yesterday and today winding down operations with a diminished staff at the plant. All employees were required to wear masks and maintain physical distancing during their time at the facility this week. There was some testing done last Saturday, but it was then determined that the company would take more aggressive action and close the facility. Rather than continue testing its team members, the company is having Greeley beef facility employees self-quarantine until the plant reopens.

Regarding sick pay, we have policies in place for symptomatic and COVID-19 positive team members. If anyone is having issues being paid, it’s likely due to a process or paperwork issue. We encourage people to call our COVID-19 Hotline at 888-267-3447 with any questions or concerns. Additionally, plant employees in good standing will receive a $600 bonus on May 15, 2020.

We are communicating directly with our team members and following guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, medical professionals and the local health department. We recognize that many people feel anxious as we all face the coronavirus challenge together. For employees who have been impacted by COVID-19, we are offering support to the team members and their families."

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