Workers at Tyson meatpacking plants in three states, including Iowa, learned today they aren’t being called back from a furlough any time soon. The company last month idled workers in Denison and at plants in Nebraska and Idaho. Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson says at the time it was expected to last three to five weeks. The temporary suspension of operations will continue through a fifth week, February 12, and perhaps one more week and he says they’ll pay qualified workers for another week off the job. Mickelson says the company’s been forced to suspend work because there aren’t enough cattle coming to market to keep the slaughter plants busy. He says the company knows it’s been hard on workers and their communities. Market conditions haven’t improved enough to warrant resuming operations, he says, as the packers need more cattle to run their plants and they have far more slaughter capacity than available cattle to slaughter. He says reopening the U.S. border to Canadian imports is important and he says it should happen as scheduled. The meatpackers including Tyson are making no secret of the fact that they’re eager to resume imports of meat and live cattle from Canada, despite the discovery recently of two more cases of Mad Cow Disease in that country. Mickelson says meatpackers also anticipate the day when we resume exports of beef products to major trade partners like Japan and Korea. Some livestock producers say while it’s a goal to start selling U.S. beef again, we shouldn’t resume Canadian imports yet because they need to prove their supply of animals is safe. They maintain we won’t be able to prove U.S. meat is safe in turn, and that would actually block resumption of U.S. sales to countries that lack confidence in our products. Mickelson was asked if the plants will shut down if their supply remains too low to restart slaughter operations. Mickelson says he’s not aware of any plans to permanently close plants, and the current plan’s to resume operations when market conditions show improvement. “However if conditions remain unfavorable, we’ll have to consider all options available to us.” The plants where operations were suspended January 10 are in Denison, in Norfolk and West Point Nebraska, in Boise Idaho, and Pasco, Washington. The workers were asked to take a week of their paid vacation time, then were paid for a 32-hour week the past couple weeks and for now their benefits like insurance, for those who qualify, will continue.
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