Another Central Valley Foster Farms Employee Dies of COVID-19 Complications

Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

A truck rolls into Foster Farms' Cherry Avenue facility in Fresno on Dec. 15. (Alex Hall/KQED)

Another Foster Farms employee in the Central Valley has died due to complications from COVID-19.

The Fresno plant worker's death was confirmed by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health in an email to KQED Wednesday. Cal/OSHA was notified of the death on Dec. 28, at which point they began the process of inspecting the Foster Farms facility on S. Cherry Avenue in Fresno. There is now a total of three COVID-related deaths at that facility.

A Foster Farms plant in Livingston was shut down for six days in September after an outbreak resulted in at least 392 workers testing positive for coronavirus, with nine dying from complications from COVID-19, KQED previously reported.

"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," the company said through a spokesperson.

The death follows an outbreak of at least 193 COVID-19 infections at the same poultry plant which was confirmed to KQED by the Fresno County Department of Public Health in early December, though it is not immediately clear if the death is related to that outbreak.

Sponsored

Three separate Foster Farms facilities in the Central Valley reported outbreaks, including the S. Cherry Avenue plant.

On Dec. 23, a Merced County judge ordered Foster Farms to comply with health orders, after finding the company may have engaged in unfair business practices by failing to comply with an Aug. 28 health order issued by the Merced County Department of Public Health.

The ruling — which went into effect Monday — requires Foster Farms to provide face masks, stagger employee meal and start times, investigate close contacts of workers who test positive, to ensure infected employees do not come to work, and inform all employees of testing requirements and any outbreaks that occur, among other requirements.

The United Farm Workers of America and two employees of a Foster Farms poultry processing plant in the Central Valley filed a lawsuit against the company on Dec. 17, arguing the company is operating in “naked disregard of both national and local guidelines.”

Those orders stem from a lawsuit aiming to compel Foster Farms to improve safety protocols.

The complaint filed by the United Farm Workers and Foster Farms workers argues its workers are spaced "substantially less than six feet apart from each other for prolonged periods of time with no plastic divider or similar protection between them," and that the company fails to "rigorously or effectively enforce social distancing or even to supply masks," among other allegations.

The complaint also alleges Foster Farms “continues to ignore baseline workplace safety protocols, inexorably leading to further spread and infection in the Plant and community at large."

For its part, Foster Farms defended its practices by saying it had already agreed to institute those changes.

After the most recent worker's death, a Foster Farms spokesperson says "our positivity rate at the plant since mid-December continues to decline," and the company is testing all of its employees twice a week. The spokesperson says Foster Farms employees have a positivity rate lower than the overall positivity rate in Fresno County.

KQED reporter Alexandra Hall contributed to this report.