Memorial, vigil held for local Tyson workers who died of COVID-19

Memorial, vigil for workers near Tyson Fresh Meats in Wallula

*This article has been updated from its original version to include new comments from Tyson

Farm workers and their supporters put up signs and held a vigil Friday memorializing three workers they say died of COVID-19 after becoming infected while working at Tyson Fresh Meats in Wallula.

Three signs adorned with flowers pay tribute to Guadalupe Olivera, Bernardo Torralba, and Jorge Guijarro-Castaneda. The signs face the Tyson plant and bear the men’s names along with the words, “Rest in Peace.”

The memorial was placed near a Tyson sign that reads, “Thank you for working safe today! Your safety is important to us & your family.”

KAPP-KVEW spoke with United Farm Workers Pacific Northwest Regional Director Victoria Ruddy at the site of the signs, across the street from Tyson Fresh Meats. She was there to support Tyson workers and “make the employees’ health and safety a priority.”

Farm workers and supporters flew United Farm Workers flags and held a vigil for the employees that lost their lives. Cars lined up across the street in support.

There have been more than 250 coronavirus cases linked to the facility and it shut down briefly to test all employees, however some workers feel they were hurried back.

“Kind of frustrated and upset that the company had kind of forgotten about their co-workers that have passed away and didn’t even recognize their existence, that they’ve posted those positions and it’s frustrating,” said Ruddy, referring to openings for Tyson jobs previously held by the deceased men.

Workers who attended the vigil are concerned about potentially spreading the virus to their families. They also say they are facing discrimination outside of work. Ruddy said an employee told her a child-care facility declined to watch her kids because of her work at the Tyson plant.

KAPP-KVEW reached out to Tyson Fresh Meats for additional comment on Friday’s display across the street from the Wallula plant.

“We’re saddened by the loss of our team members. In fact, this morning, we stopped everything at the plant for three minutes of silence in remembrance of them — one minute for each of the men who passed away,” said Tyson Foods Senior Director of Public Relations Gary Mickelson. “I think it’s also important to note we have been in contact with the families. One of our chaplains has reached out, members of our human resources team have also contacted family members to offer support and also to answer questions about benefits.”

Tyson has said the safety of its team members will remain the company’s top priority. Mickelson said Tyson has been screening worker temperatures, requiring protective face coverings, conducting additional cleaning and sanitizing, and adding workstation dividers and more break-room space.

Around midday Friday, health districts in Walla Walla, Benton, and Franklin counties provided updates on the COVID-19 fight.

  • Walla Walla County: No new cases, no people in the hospital with COVID-19 infections, and 106 total cases with 83 patients recovered and two deaths
  • Benton-Franklin: 16 new cases and one new death (a woman in her 70s with underlying conditions) for 1,312 cases across both counties and 72 deaths

Of the 1,312 cases in the Tri-Cities, close to 80% lived at a nursing home, worked at a nursing home or another health-care facility, or worked at Tyson Fresh Meats.

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