Kraft Heinz closes, cleans, and re-opens two plants after positive COVID-19 tests; union cites ‘repeated delays in providing adequate PPE to workers’

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Picture credit: Kraft Heinz
Picture credit: Kraft Heinz

Related tags: Kraft heinz, COVID-19, PPE, coronavirus, Food supply chain

Kraft Heinz has closed, deep-cleaned, then rapidly re-opened, manufacturing facilities in Holland, Michigan, and Springfield, Missouri, after employees tested positive for COVID-19.

Michael Mullen, SVP corporate affairs at Kraft Heinz told FoodNavigator-USA: “Over the past week, we were informed that two employees in our Holland, Mich., site were confirmed to have tested positive for Coronavirus (COVID-19).

“We have three additional employee cases which we are treating as presumptive positives. Human Resources has done contact tracing and contacted those people who had been in close proximity with these impacted employees.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we closed the plant on Sunday ​[April 19] to deep clean the facility and reopened it on Monday ​[April 20]. All five employees are self-quarantined at home.”

He noted that the firm’s plant in Springfield, Missouri, also “closed for two days​ [in late March] for deep cleaning after a confirmed test.”

Masks to arrive at Holland, Michigan, ‘in the next day or two’

Asked to respond to claims of “repeated delays in providing adequate personal protective equipment to workers​” from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (representing workers at Kraft Heinz in Holland, Michigan), he said: “Following the update of CDC face protection guidelines, the company quickly procured and is distributing protective masks, which will arrive in Holland in the next day or two.”

He added: “We’ve also added social distancing on our production lines and in all other areas of our factories and health questionnaires as part of employee safety routines at our factories. We will also conduct temperature checks beginning this week.

“The health, safety, and wellbeing of our employees remain our number one priority across our entire organization. Since we’re a food company focused on quality, even in normal times we have incredibly stringent food safety and quality procedures in place.”

"Outrageously, despite the fact that COVID-19 has been spreading across our nation for weeks, workers at this facility ​[in Holland, Michigan] still don’t have the proper PPE they need. Weeks ago workers were promised masks, and they’re still yet to arrive, despite promises from management day after day that they would."

Local 705 of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) statement on behalf of the workers they represent at Kraft Heinz in Holland, Michigan, April 21, 2020

‘The company is now not requiring employees to take vacation days if they are in self quarantine’

Quizzed over claims by union members that workers are required to “use vacation days when they have to be quarantined because they have been in contact while at work with someone who has the virus​,” he said that this policy had now changed.

The company is now not requiring employees to take vacation days if they are in self quarantine or need to stay home for COVID-19-related reasons.”

He did not respond to union claims that “tying extra pay to attendance encourages workers to come to work when they are sick​,” but stressed: “We would never encourage employees to come to work if they are not well and from the beginning of this outbreak we have asked any employee who feels unwell to stay home and seek medical assistance.”

He added: “Kraft Heinz has provided all manufacturing employees with a $100 per week bonus during this time.”

Bernstein: Surge in detail demand for Kraft Heinz products likely partially offset by exposure to foodservice markets

Kraft Heinz is due to report its Q1 2020 results on April 30, with analysts at Bernstein predicting that its retail channel growth might be “partially offset by double-digit declines in the foodservice channel,”​ which accounts for around 15% of sales.

“The net impact remains positive, as Kraft Heinz expects organic sales growth of 6% in Q1. We also expect the one-time cash windfall from the recent demand surge to provide a relief to its balance sheet and leverage ratio.”

However, the company’s aggressive focus on cost cutting in recent years “might have resulted in less spare capacity in the supply chain, which positions Kraft Heinz less well than peers to take advantage of the recent demand surge​,” said Bernstein.

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Kraft Heinz has committed to donating $12m globally to "ensure people across the globe have the food they need during this challenging time,​' partnering with hunger relief organizations around the globe and donating products from Kraft Macaroni & Cheese to Planters Nut Mixes and DEVOUR frozen meals to food banks. It has also launched an internal campaign, #WeGotYouAmerica, celebrating its US plant employees.

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