GREEN BAY, Wis. (WLUK) -- Brown County Public Health officials say they're happy with the safety changes made at area meat packing plants to combat a coronavirus outbreak, but some workers say the companies aren't doing enough.
Three employees at American Foods Group say workers who brought safety concerns to management were told if they don't like working conditions, they were free to go and the company would eventually get in touch with them.
“We decided to continue to work because we didn't want for them to interpret it as if we were abandoning our work and we didn't have any guarantees that they would actually call us back,” said an unidentified COVID-infected woman who has worked at American Foods Group for 10 years.
Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera, translated for the woman and other meat packing employees who spoke during a Wednesday afternoon news conference.
Voces de la Frontera, a Milwaukee-based immigrants’ rights group, organized the virtual news conference and has filed complaints with state and federal health agencies about working conditions at American Foods Group and JBS.
“So while we were working we were sweating so hard that it was making the mask wet and also our sweat was falling on the beef,” said Filberto Reyes Martinez, an American Foods Group employee for about two years.
Reyes Martinez alleges he was sent home from work at American Foods on April 22 after voicing concerns, and was told he'd be contacted on whether he'd be fired or laid off. He says he has yet to hear anything. Voces de la Frontera is trying to get him reinstated with pay for the days he was home.
Voces de la Frontera's complaints were filed April 13 and have led to CDC and OSHA investigations which are ongoing.
As of Wednesday’s county health report, 262 employees at JBS have tested positive for COVID-19. An additional 86 cases for people who do not work at JBS have been linked to the plant. American Foods Group has had 170 employees test positive and 27 other cases linked to it, according to Brown County Public Health.
Dora Flores' father is a COVID-infected employee at JBS and says things have improved, but some areas still lack necessary physical distancing.
“It's not everything, but we have to start somewhere in order to see the bigger changes that we need,” said Flores through the translator.
A JBS labor rep, who didn't want to be identified, says the company “took every precaution it possibly could, but it was too late. You can't control the virus once it started.”
The labor rep also notes workers are still being paid for 32 hours work per week while the plant is temporarily closed.
JBS still hasn't said when it might reopen.
American Foods has kept operating. The company hasn't responded to FOX 11’s request for comment on the accusations workers raised in this story.
Voces de la Frontera says it’s received complaints about nine companies in Wisconsin. Besides the meat packing plants in our area, the group says that includes the Green Bay food processors TNT Crust and Hansen Foods.