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A Colorado slaughterhouse has upped vaccinations, but workers still feel fear, and anger.

todayDecember 29, 2021

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GREELEY, Colo. — Tin Aye died without ever laying hands on her newborn grandson.

Through her six decades of life, she endured a harrowing exodus from her homeland in Myanmar while pregnant with her only child, followed by 15 years in a refugee camp. She and her daughter, San Twin, managed to forge new lives in the United States.

But she could not survive her job inside a slaughterhouse run by the world’s largest meat processing company, JBS. She died last year, one of six people who succumbed to Covid while working at a plant in Greeley, Colo.

In crucial ways, much has changed for workers inside the long, low-slung slaughterhouse in Greeley, a city of roughly 100,000 people on the high plains of northern Colorado. In a new contract secured last summer, the union gained substantial raises from JBS, the Brazilian conglomerate that owns the plant. Colorado passed legislation mandating paid sick leave, after the state shut the plant for more than a week last year. Inside the slaughterhouse, dividers and partitions have been installed to help maintain social distancing.

But workers complain that many of the changes have been aimed at managing perceptions, while stubborn problems remain: not enough distance between people stationed at some parts of the assembly line, inadequate stocks of hand sanitizer, and subtle pressure to come to work even when they are ill.

A spokeswoman for JBS, Nikki Richardson, disputed that characterization.

“Our focus throughout the global pandemic has been, and continues to be, to protect our team members from the virus and do everything possible to keep it out of our facilities,” she wrote in an emailed statement.

The Greeley plant, which paid $2,100 bonuses to workers who got the coronavirus shots, has achieved an 80 percent rate of vaccination, Ms. Richardson added. The facility has increased wages more than 50 percent over the past five years.

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