Employees at Mission Foods Plant demand action following several COVID-19 outbreaks

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PUEBLO, Colo. — Several employees at Mission Foods Plant in Pueblo have had enough. They are demanding the temporary closure of the plant, saying it has been the site of several COVID-19 outbreaks since early 2020.

The Colorado Department of Public Health said there are currently 12 active outbreaks at the plant.

“I’m looking at people I am friends with that are at high risk and that could get sick and die,” said employee Marie Watson.

Watson has worked at Mission Foods for 12 years, she lost her father to COVID-19 and is worried she and her coworkers at Mission could become infected while on the job.

“As soon as an outbreak happens, it’s like they forget about doing the right thing and claim it’s not their fault,” Watson explained.

Watson said the plant runs six days a week and employees often work 12 hour shifts. She claims there is little cleaning done in between shifts and the COVID-19 implementations they are doing now are no different than before COVID-19.

“They’ll go that one day out of the week to clean, but it’s disingenuous for the company to say this is deep cleaning because that is how it was before COVID-19,” Watson said.

Watson and 200 other Pueblo Mission Foods employees are represented by UFCW Local 7, they say this is one of many outbreaks the plant has seen since last summer.

“The company is saying they are cleaning more and they are doing a better job,” Retail Director of UFCW Ramon Zuniga said. “But my members who work in the environment are saying different.”

FOX21 called Mission Foods and left several messages – we received word back in the form of the following statement:

“Like many other essential businesses operating right now, our Pueblo facility has experienced an increase in the number of employees who have reported that they have tested positive for COVID-19. The fact is we’ve had rigorous protocols and policies in place for months to protect the health and safety of our employees. We have been in close contact with the Pueblo Department of Public Health, which visited the facility on December 2 and was satisfied with our prevention measures.

“Our protocols include numerous new procedures since the start of the pandemic. For example, we use a fogging machine in all areas of the facility for our regular deep cleanings. We clean and sanitize the production packing area every four hours. Common areas are cleaned and sanitized every hour on the hour. We conduct ongoing, around-the-clock sanitization on all items touched by employees, such as door handles, lockers, microwaves, refrigerators and other equipment. Also, should any employee report that they have experienced symptoms or received a positive test result, we immediately clean and sanitize their work area. Again, each of these protocols and numerous others are new since the pandemic. Any statement to the contrary is either misinformed or deliberately false and misleading.

“Beyond our rigorous approach to cleaning and sanitization, we continue to encourage and allow high-risk individuals to take leaves of absence. For any employee diagnosed with COVID-19, we provide two weeks of paid leave to stay home until cleared to return to work. We have also distributed a letter to every employee confirming their status as an essential worker, in order to assist them in receiving the vaccine at this early stage in Colorado.”

Armando garza, Regional director of manufactoring for missiong foods

UFCW is demanding the plant close for ten days to make sure workers have access to COVID-19 testing, as well as quarantine pay for all employees while the plant is closed.

“Our members are demanding the plant do the right thing,” said Zuniga.

At this time the union said the employees cannot strike since they are under contract.

State Senate President Leroy Garcia has also joined the UFCW’s call to action and asked Mission Foods to lead by example and close the plant.

“It is extremely concerning that a third outbreak is occurring at the Mission Foods plant in Pueblo. Our members— Mission’s employees— deserve better than a lackluster response to stop the spread of the virus throughout the plant. After nearly a year into this pandemic, no company can claim ignorance to the dangers coronavirus poses in production facilities. We implore Mission Foods to close the plant down for 10 days to conduct a deep sanitation of the facility, ensure workers have access to COVID-19 testing, and give quarantine pay for all employees while the plant is closed. Mission’s workers deserve a safe workplace, and the Pueblo community in which the company operates deserves to be protected from any spread from the plant.”  

Leroy M. Garcia, Jr. (D-3)

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