WILLMAR — Following its decision Friday to temporarily close the Willmar Avenue and Benson Avenue turkey processing plants in Willmar, employees at Jennie-O Turkey Store worked to wind down business at the two plants over the weekend.
Late last week Jennie-O confirmed 14 employees who worked at its Willmar Avenue plant had tested positive for COVID-19. The decision was then made to close both Willmar locations.
In an email to the West Central Tribune on Sunday, a media representative from Hormel, the parent company of Jennie-O, said a very limited number of employees will be working in the plants as they undergo deep cleaning and sanitation processes. Those employees will be working in shipping, refrigeration and security.
The cleaning and sanitation will be completed by a small number of Jennie-O employees and external contractors, the email said.
Those employees still working in the plants will be provided with personal protective equipment such as masks and face shields and enhanced sanitation processes will continue.
All other employees will be out of the buildings including hourly team members, management and office personnel. Corporate office employees have already been working from home for several weeks, the email said, and the office has been closed to all outside visitors.
Plant employees will receive 100 percent of their base pay and benefits during the pause in production.
"I want to recognize our production professionals for continuing to do an outstanding job as they work to keep food on tables during this unprecedented time. I am very proud of them and I look forward to being back together as soon as we are able," said Steve Lykken, president of Jennie-O, in a news release issued Friday.
There is no timeline yet to reopen the Willmar plants. Food production will continue at other Jennie-O facilities.
Jennie-O Turkey Store is comprised of 12 lay farms, three hatcheries, more than 100 commercial growing farms, eight feed mills and seven processing plants across Minnesota and Wisconsin, according to an online company profile, and employs more than 7,000 in total. Two processing plants are located in Willmar. Others are in Faribault, Melrose, Montevideo and Pelican Rapids in Minnesota and one in Barron, Wisconsin.
Jennie-O Turkey Store is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hormel Foods Corporation, based in Austin, Minn.