State Watch

Twelfth worker at California poultry company dies of COVID-19

Another worker for American poultry company Foster Farms died from complications due to COVID-19 over the weekend, making him the 12th employee of the California-based corporation to die after contracting the coronavirus. 

According to the Los Angeles Times, the worker’s family said the employee, who was of Punjabi descent and in his 50s, worked at Foster Farms’ Cherry Avenue plant in Fresno, Calif.

After being diagnosed with COVID-19, the man spent the past three weeks in a local hospital’s intensive care unit before passing away, according to Deep Singh, executive director of the Jakara Movement, a Central Valley youth and family nonprofit that works with the Punjabi Sikh community.

Singh told the Times that the worker’s family believes he contracted the virus at work, as he avoided going outside his home other than to go to the plant or for other essential reasons. 

The man is the third worker of the Fresno plant to die of COVID-19, with nine additional coronavirus fatalities tied to Foster Farms’ Livingston, Calif., plant. 

According to Foster Farms, at least 193 people at the Fresno plant have tested positive for COVID-19, roughly 20 percent of its workers. 

Singh said that the poultry company should have done more to protect its staff, accusing the business of a “callous lack of concern and protections that prioritize worker safety and their families.”

The company has also received criticism for poorly communicating with its workers, giving directions in English, even though many in the company’s workforce have limited proficiency in the language. 

Foster Farms had previously come under scrutiny for its handling of the pandemic, with community leaders telling the Times that the company has asked its employees to work overtime amid the pandemic. 

Days before Christmas, a Merced County judge granted a temporary restraining order sought by the United Farm Workers of America union against Foster Farms. 

The order required Foster Farms to supply workers at its Livingston plant with face masks and mandate that workers wear them when social distancing is not possible, The Associated Press reported. 

The order also mandated that the company must have temperature and health screenings for workers and visitors before they enter the plant, as well as physical dividers in break rooms and along production lines. 

In response to the most recent death, Foster Farms said in a statement to The Hill, “We are saddened by the death at our Cherry Street plant and, out of respect for the family and loved ones, can provide no further details.”

“Our positivity rate at the plant since mid-December continues to decline,” the company added in a statement. “Testing all employees twice per week, we are now at a positivity rate of less than 1%. This compares to a positivity rate in Fresno County in excess of 10%.”

Foster Farms had temporarily closed its Livingston plant in early September following an outbreak that led to nearly 400 coronavirus infections and accounted for eight deaths.

An outbreak two weeks ago at the Fresno plant also caused it to temporarily close, although it later reopened, the AP reported. 

—Updated at 9:06 p.m.

Tags California coronavirus covid-19 coronavirus deaths coronavirus outbreak Foster Farms Fresno Poultry farming The Associated Press The Los Angeles Times
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