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West Liberty Plant Announces Fewer Furloughs For Shorter Duration

Amy Mayer
IPR file
West Liberty Foods, headquartered in West Liberty, Iowa, will furlough 250 employees in one department of the plant.

During the first wave of the pandemic, an eastern Iowa turkey processor said it would have to furlough hundreds of employees. But it has since seen a rebound in business.

West Liberty Foods processes turkey meat and like other businesses this year, they planned for COVID-19 to affect supply. But vice president Dan Waters said fortunately, the economy has rebounded enough to change some of the previously anticipated precautions.

The company had announced in May that 300 employees will be furloughed by the end of the year due to a lower supply of turkey, a result of anticipated lower demand. Now, Waters said that number is closer to 250 and the furlough will last just five weeks instead of 18. The furloughed workers will come from the evisceration, cut-up and raw pack departments of the West Liberty facility.

"And so we're glad that the furlough period is much shorter than originally anticipated. We also intend to help out our workers by supplementing their unemployment payments and also paying for their insurance premiums during the furloughs," Waters said.

He said the company had anticipated a loss in demand as restaurants closed.

“Our business couldn't turn on a dime, just like others. So we weren't able to just flip a switch and start selling to grocery stores. So we were hurt by the restaurant closures," Waters said.

Waters said some furloughed employees will have the option to transfer to other departments, which will depend on availability and seniority.

The planned furloughs will start Jan. 4 and go through Feb. 8. During this time, Waters said the plant will undergo some upgrades to old walls in the building and the roof.

West Liberty Foods has four locations in and around Iowa, as well as one in Utah. It employs more than 2,100 people.

Kassidy was a reporter based in Des Moines