By Caitlin Hernández/LAist
Originally published Jun 10, 2022
One of Vernon’s largest employers, the Farmer John plant, is shutting down early next year, blaming the “escalating cost of doing business in California.”
The meatpacking facility, which employs more than 1,500 workers, was plagued by hundreds of COVID-19 cases in 2020. At the time, workers told LAist that they stood shoulder-to-shoulder processing thousands of pigs each shift.
Cal/OSHA penalized the plant’s parent company, Smithfield Foods, more than $60,000 for serious safety violations that exposed workers to COVID-19, according to the agency. Multiple employees were hospitalized.
Workers at the facility are represented by UFCW Local 770. Union president John Grant said that they’ve reached a “fair agreement” for employee compensation until next year.
“Despite a strong, mutually beneficial relationship with Farmer John employees and their union, Smithfield has decided to exit operations in California,” said Grant in a statement.
The company and the union reached the agreement last week.
“We hope that another operator will take advantage of the highly trained and stable workforce that makes the Farmer John plant a productive and profitable part of Vernon’s packing infrastructure,” Grant said.
Animal-rights groups have protested the Vernon facility for animal slaughter multiple times. Groups held two-day vigils in 2020 and used 7,000 paper hearts to call attention to pig deaths last year.
Smithfield is assisting impacted workers with the transition, according to a news release. That includes relocation to other facilities or farms, as well as unspecified “retention incentives.”
“We are committed to providing financial and other transition assistance to employees impacted by this difficult decision,” said Brady Stewart, Smithfield’s chief operating officer.
The company said it’s trying to “exit farms” in California because of rising costs. Farmer John products in California will instead be manufactured by facilities in the Midwest. The Vernon plant previously made the iconic Dodger Dog before Papa Cantella’s took over in 2021.
This report is reprinted with permission from Southern California Public Radio. © 2022 Southern California Public Radio. All rights reserved.