By Tom Hals and Tom Polansek
(Reuters) – Saul Sanchez died in April, one of six workers with fatal COVID-19 infections at meatpacker JBS USA’s slaughterhouse in Greeley, Colorado, the site of one of the earliest and deadliest coronavirus outbreaks at a U.S. meatpacking plant.
Before getting sick, the 78-year-old Sanchez only left home to work on the fabrication line, where cattle carcasses are sliced into cuts of beef, and to go to his church, with its five-person congregation, said his daughter, Betty Rangel. She said no one else got infected in the family or at Bible Missionary Church, which could not be reached for comment.
JBS, the world’s largest meatpacker, denied the family’s application for workers’ compensation benefits, along with those filed by the families of two other Greeley workers who died of COVID-19, said lawyers handling the three claims. Families of the three other Greeley workers who died also sought compensation, a union representative said, but Reuters could not determine the status of their claims.
JBS has said the employees’ COVID-19 infections were not work-related in denying the claims, according to responses the company gave to employees, which were reviewed by Reuters.
As more Americans return to workplaces, the experience of JBS employees shows the difficulty of linking infections to employment and getting compensation for medical care and lost wages.
“That is the ultimate question: How can you prove it?” said Nick Fogel, an attorney specializing in workers’ compensation at the firm Burg Simpson in Colorado.
The meatpacking industry has suffered severe coronavirus outbreaks, in part because production-line workers often work side-by-side for long shifts. Companies including JBS, Tyson Foods Inc <TSN.N> and WH Group Ltd’s <0288.HK> Smithfield Foods closed about 20 plants this spring after outbreaks, prompting President Donald Trump in April to order the plants to