THIEF RIVER FALLS, Minn. – After a handful of recent positive COVID-19 cases there, an estimated 40 people reportedly walked off the job Monday, Oct. 19, at a Thief River Falls turkey plant.

Staff at Northern Pride turkey plant said three employees have tested positive over the past week, including a positive case that was confirmed on Sunday, Oct. 18, which meant several plant workers were considered “close contacts” and informed of such that day. Employees asked for a plant-wide test on Monday morning and were told there were logistical hurdles, which meant people who suspected they were sick or were close contacts of the most recent positive case went home, according to Scott Christensen, Northern Pride’s CEO.

“We talked through that and told them, well, we are an essential business, and we need to operate,” Christensen told the Herald.

Northern Pride higher-ups offered to forward people for testing who were feeling sick or had been close contacts of the three people who had already tested positive and would make arrangements for people to get tested even if they weren’t exhibiting symptoms, Christensen said.

“But we can't do it immediately right now,” he said, paraphrasing the back-and-forth with workers. “We said we have turkeys to be processed today, and we need to operate. From an animal welfare standpoint, we do not want them sitting out there for an extended period of time.”

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

A cellphone video sent to iNewZ.TV shows plant workers, many of whom are from Mexico or Puerto Rico, quarreling with management on Monday. That outlet was the first to report about the plant workers’ qualms.

“Nobody can work if we're sick,” a worker says in Spanish. “And it’s a loss for the company, too.”

At the plant itself, employees are asked a handful of screening questions and have their temperature taken before they’re allowed to clock in for a shift, Christensen said. And people who need to stay home while they await test results or to recover from a positive diagnosis are paid for their time.

Staff at the combined Pennington County and Red Lake County health department are testing every Northern Pride employee this week, according to Director Kayla Jore.

Each employee deemed a close contact of the three people who tested positive has been quarantined, she added. She told the Herald on Tuesday that she didn’t know how many people are considered close contacts of those three, however.