As President Trump Orders Meatpackers Open, Smithfield Crete Plant Reverses Closure Plans
By Christina Stella , Reporter/Producer Nebraska Public Media
April 28, 2020, 6 p.m. ·
President Trump has signed an executive order that meatpacking plants must stay open under the Defense Production Act. The mandate puts questions to rest around whether the Smithfield plant in Crete will close.
As COVID-19 cases climb at the plant, social media has flooded with reports that the meatpacker planned to pause production, but then reversed that decision.
The companies never publicly commented on the plans. But Governor Pete Ricketts confirmed Tuesday those rumors are true: Smithfield called his office yesterday morning to confirm the closure, but changed course later that day. He later said that his office did not consult with Smithfield about whether they should close the plant, and that the Governor only spoke to executives after they had decided to forego the closures.
Kim Showalter of Public Health Solutions, which has been closely monitoring the outbreak at the Smithfield plant, said the reports of a closure were news to her. "Smithfield has not communicated with PHS directly on closure or non-closure," she wrote in an email to NET. "We were not informed by Smithfield of any decision."
A group of Smithfield workers walked out today in protest over the reversal, citing their concerns about worker safety. But Ricketts maintained the state is staying out of any decision to close.
“We are not going to tell food processing facilities to close, okay? We're working to keep these facilities open because they are a critical part of our nation's food supply."
But the issue may soon be moot: while President Trump’s executive order targets Tyson Foods, it will likely apply to other large companies like Smithfield. Ricketts says he supports the move.
“So if the President has a plan to be able to do it, we're happy to work with him on the plan. If we can get additional resources to do that, I'm all ears on how that can happen.”
The mandate comes only days after the CDC finalized safety guidelines for plants, and reportedly promises more protective equipment for workers.