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Hormel, Maple Leaf Pay Worker Bonuses to Keep Plants Going

Jen Skerritt and Isis Almeida

(Bloomberg) -- Food giants across North America are offering staff working at its meat plants more money as their already-grueling jobs become even more critical during the coronavirus crisis.

Cargill Inc., the world’s largest agricultural commodities trader, spam-maker Hormel Foods Corp. and top Canadian food processor Maple Leaf Foods Inc. are offering cash bonuses for plant staff amid a threat of production disruptions if workers start calling in sick due to the deadly virus.

That’s a stark turnaround for an industry that rarely offers even paid sick leave for plant employees. But as shoppers stock up on meat and prepare to stay home to weather the pandemic, and possible disruptions to immigrant worker visas loom, meat giants are trying to keep their factories running.

Cargill, the third-largest U.S. beef packer, is paying an additional $2 an hour for employees that complete all their weekly shifts as well as a $500 bonus to the ones that work all their schedules through May 3. It’s also offering paid leave for 2 weeks for employees affected by the coronavirus through March 31.

Hormel will spend more than $4 million on cash bonuses for workers “who have been working around the clock” to ensure its products are available, the company said Monday. Full-time workers will receive $300 while part-time workers will get $150 in addition to extended paid sick leave.

Also read: Threat of Sick Workers at U.S. Meat Plants Forces Policy Changes

Sales of Hormel’s Spam increased as much as 37% in the four weeks ended March 8, according to a Bloomberg Intelligence report, which cited IRI data.

Maple Leaf will be providing hourly staff with an C$80 ($55) per week additional support payment in addition to regular overtime and pay, it said Monday in a statement.

Meat demand has soared since the outbreak, forcing many food giants to shift their production processes to supply grocery stores instead of restaurants. At the same time, there are concerns about the ability of immigrant workers to get visas as U.S. President Donald Trump clamps down on border crossings.

(Updates with Cargill program in fourth paragraph.)

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