'Workers Are Scared,' Says Wisconsin Meatpacking Plant Worker Who Tested Positive For COVID-19

Apr 22, 2020

Raquel Sanchez Alvarado says she's been with American Foods, the Green Bay meatpacking company, for a year and a half. About three weeks ago, she came down with a bad cough, but she kept going to work. She worked for a week until she tested positive for COVID-19.

Alvarado says that while she was working, American Foods was not taking the precautions necessary to keep workers safe.

“There were no masks. There was no distancing inside the plant, only [in the] break room. We worked really close to each other," she says, describing her working conditions before she tested positive for COVID-19.

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Alvarado told her story at a Tuesday news conference hosted by Voces de la Frontera, an immigrant rights advocacy group.

She shares her experience in hopes that American Foods will take more serious precautions to protect workers. And since she’s spoken out, she’s heard from coworkers still working in the plant that changes have been made. They say workers’ temperatures are being taken before they go into the plant.

Workers across the United States are sharing similar experiences. In Colorado, coronavirus deaths of Latino workers led to a meat plant shutdown. Here in Wisconsin, a recent cluster of coronavirus infections in Brown County are reportedly linked to JBS, another meatpacking plant in Green Bay. Family members of JBS employees who tested positive alleged that JBS did not take proper on-site precautions to protect workers from COVID-19 spread.

Alvarado says that there are many other workers who are still too afraid to speak up about their working conditions.

"People are scared that they will be fired and that they will not find a job at another company if they express their concerns," says Alvarado. Hispanic people in her community are very scared to miss work — even if they are feeling ill.

American Foods did not respond to our request for comment. But JBS did.

JBS says it checks every worker’s temperature before they enter a facility and requires everyone to wear a face mask. The company also reiterated that no one is forced to come to work and no one is punished for being absent for health reasons.