Tyson Foods employees demand additional relief funds from Johnson County Board of Supervisors

Congolese workers attended the supervisors’ budget meeting to request that the county fund its direct assistance program again.


Matt Sindt

Congolese Tyson workers speak about being left out of a $1,400 direct assistance program at a budget meeting in the Johnson County Administration Building on Monday November 28, 2022.

Alejandro Rojas, News Reporter

About two dozen employees from the Tyson Foods Columbus Junction gathered at the Johnson County Board of Supervisors budget work session on Monday to ask the board to give a second round of Direct Assistance Program checks. 

The program offered county residents a one-time payment of $1,400 to assist those who had been financially impacted by COVID-19, according to a page from the county’s website. The program was created in May with 1,919 residents receiving financial assistance. 

The supervisors first approved the program in February and allocated $3.5 million to the program at the time. Residents selected for assistance were picked using a lottery system.

The gathering comes after a census from Escucha Mi Voz, a local nonprofit dedicated to assisting and advocating for immigrant workers. The organization found that more than 500 Congolese meatpacking plant workers in Johnson County were not notified of the direct assistance program.

At the meeting, workers spoke to the supervisors about how important the aid would have been and asked the board to consider funding the program again.

RELATED: Johnson County supervisors approve direct assistance program

Perry Makumi, a worker at the plant who advocated for funding at the meeting, translated on behalf of some of the other French speakers. In an interview with The Daily Iowan after the meeting, he said the biggest struggle has been the lack of communication from the county. 

“Some of us learned of this direct assistance from Johnson County very late,” Makumi said. “It wasn’t fair for people to be left out of this direct assistance.”

Esther Dangaye, another Tyson worker who spoke at the meeting, told the supervisors she had not been aware of the direct assistance program. 

Other workers in attendance also shared their stories of working through the pandemic, some of them contracting COVID-19, which forced them to take time off. As a result, they lost out on pay, forcing them to start working immediately after they recovered.  

The meatpacking plant closed for two weeks in 2020 with “limited operations” because of an outbreak of COVID-19 employee cases. 

Many workers said they helped keep the country fed and if the county funded the assistance program again, it would help them financially after working through the pandemic.

An Escucha Mi Voz statement released Monday said the second round of the direct assistance program is important because meatpacking plant workers were among the hardest hit in the country during the height of the pandemic. 

The lottery system used to select individuals also has the potential to leave some individuals in need of financial assistance. Supervisors Rod Sullivan and Jon Green during the Feb. 24 formal meeting opposed and voted against the eligibility requirement and instead proposed using a system that would prioritize individuals who had not received previous stimulus checks.

As reported by The Daily Iowan, Ninoska Campos, a leader from the Fund Excluded Workers Coalition, released a statement on Feb. 24 after the supervisors’ vote, in which she also opposed the eligibility requirements.

“Escucha Mi Voz members thank Supervisors Rod Sullivan and Jon Green for their support, but overall we give Johnson County an F for their response to the negative economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Campos said in the press release.