At least 11 migrant workers at a Gillett green bean facility died of COVID-19 complications last year, making it one of the deadliest coronavirus outbreaks in the U.S. food processing industry.
A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation shows that neither Seneca Foods nor local health officials tested all workers — even those living in company barracks — or interviewed them to do contact tracing. The company also didn’t monitor workers for most obvious symptoms or isolate all those who became ill. Many of the affected workers were in their 60s or 70s and had been coming north to work in the plant for years. Most lived in barracks in a labor camp next to the plant. Seneca Foods isolated some workers at a Super 8 motel, 18 miles west in Shawano. Numerous workers said they were not seen by doctors or nurses unless they became extremely ill. Most spoke little English, making it difficult to seek care on their own.
Seneca’s net earnings tripled during the nine months ending in December 2020 compared with the same period in 2019.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspected the plant in Gillett in December, after the migrant workers had left. Agency spokeswoman Rhonda Burke said the facility was following guidance by OHSA and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the time of the inspection. The migrant camp was closed, so OSHA couldn’t check it.