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Foster Farms, the nation’s 10th largest poultry producer, operates a plant in Livingston, California, about 100 miles east of San Jose. It employs over 2,500 workers there, making it the largest employer in Merced County.

The first outbreak at the Livingston plant peaked in August 2020. In total, nearly 400 workers tested positive and nine died. Merced County’s public health director called the incident “one of the largest occupational fatalities experienced during COVID-19 in the state of California.”

The county health department shut down the plant for six days, during which Foster Farms completed two rounds of deep cleaning of its facilities and COVID-19 testing of its workforce.

In the aftermath of the first outbreak, United Farm Workers of America, the union that represents about 2,000 employees at the plant, alleged that Foster Farms had not been following county public health orders and other directives related to limiting the spread of COVID-19.

Fisher Phillips reports that following a second COVID-19 outbreak at Foster Farms, a California judge issued what is likely the first injunction in the nation against a meat processing plant over corona virus safety.

Soon after the suit was filed, the court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) at the plaintiffs’ request. A TRO typically lasts no more than 30 days.

The court set a a preliminary injunction hearing on January 29, 2021 and decided to issue an injunction incorporating the TRO’s 20 requirements imposed on Foster Farms.

The ruling leaves in place the substance of a December 2020 temporary restraining order requiring the employer to take 20 specific steps to protect workers from the spread of the virus. The lawsuit was brought by the union that represents the employees at the plant.

Those requirements include:

– – Requiring all workers to wear face coverings and supplying them with masks;
– – Promoting social distancing by staggering employees’ works schedules and break times, and installing additional break areas;
– – Installing physical dividers in areas where social distancing is difficult to maintain, like production lines;
– – Training employees on COVID-19 hazard mitigation and informing them of testing requirements, outbreaks that occur, areas affected, and training on safety requirements; and
– – Warning and appropriately disciplining employees who do not comply with its new COVID-19 policies.

Foster Farms plans to appeal the ruling, characterizing it as unnecessary court intervention, as both the county public health department and Cal/OSHA already have oversight of the plant. Company officials also highlighted the fact that Foster Farms has administered nearly 100,000 COVID-19 tests to its workforce since the pandemic began, 40,000 of them at the Livingston plant.