Foster Farms Livingston plant to close Tuesday, UFW ask for better worker safety

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LIVINGSTON, Calif. (KGPE) – The Foster Farms Livingston processing plant is set to close on Tuesday until Sept. 7 after hundreds of employees tested positive for COVID-19 and at least eight employees died of COVID-19 complications, according to the Merced County Department of Public Health.

United Farm Workers (UFW) held a virtual press conference on Tuesday, pledging to boycott Foster Farms products if it “continues its failure to provide a safe workplace.”

Martha Vera said she recently lost her husband to COVID-19. She said he was a truck driver with Foster Farms in Livingston, and UFW said he’s one of the eight employees who died.

Vera said her husband worked there for 27 years and she’s worked there for 24 years.

“I would like it if you could tell them to protect the workers. How many more deaths do they want?” Vera said.

The Merced County Department of Public Health ordered the plant to close last week, but it remained open, UFW said.

On Saturday, the County Department of Public Health said in a statement that after discussions, the plant would close on Tuesday.

The statement says a deep cleaning and employee testing will be conducted during the closure. If both can’t be achieved by Sept. 7, the closure could be extended.

“The remainder of the Foster Farms Livingston complex that is not experiencing an outbreak will remain open,” the statement reads.

In a statement by Foster Farms on Monday, they say they’ll be completing “two rounds of deep cleaning and two rounds of COVID-19 testing, covering all 1,400 plant employees.”

They said they’ll also be testing for other facilities within the poultry complex.

“Concurrently, we will have completed two rounds of testing at all other major processing and logistical facilities that comprise the Livingston Poultry Complex,” the statement reads.

A spokesperson with Foster Farms said employees who show up at the facility to get tested this week both times will be paid while the plant is closed.

UFW is asking for safe workplace measures, including:

  • Testing all workers, including cleaning crews, with public results before returning to work
  • Providing all employees with paid leave while the plant is closed and “quarantine pay” to those awaiting test results
  • Testing of all workers every week once the facility reopens
  • Supplying hazard pay of an additional $2 an hour throughout the COVID-19 crisis
  • Providing all employees with free personal protective equipment
  • Signing a union contract with an employee and health & safety committee to protect union & non-union workers

“This is not some extravagant ask. This is literally the bare minimum,” Andy Levine with Faith in The Valley and who was on the UFW call, said. “Workers are asking their employer to follow the law.”

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