West Liberty Foods to furlough some workers as sales drop

West Liberty Foods will furlough about 300 workers from November through February do to decreased demand for Turkey. The furloughed employees will continue to receive some benefits. (File Photo)

WEST LIBERTY, Iowa–Due to a drop in turkey product sales, West Liberty Foods will furlough some workers later this year. Vice President and General Counsel of West Liberty Foods, Dan Waters, explained that slower sales to restaurants left the company with an excess of food in cold storage. This has led West Liberty Foods to need to slow production in order to properly process the back log. “With restaurants closing and Americans sheltering in place, demand for many of our meat products dropped dramatically,” said Waters. “As a result, we have accumulated millions of excess pounds of turkey breast meat in cold storage, and we need to work through that inventory.”

In order for West Liberty Foods to take care of excess inventory, they will continue to process live turkeys as they come in, but the farms that supply them with turkey will not raise more birds for 18 weeks starting at the end of June, which will allow the company to work through their extra stock without letting it go to waste.

Based on when farmers stop placing poults, West Liberty Foods does not plan to process live turkeys from November through February. During this time, approximately 300 employees who work in cut-up, evisceration, and raw packing will get furloughed. All other workers will continue to work their regular jobs and hours. During their furlough, Waters stated they would continue to receive some benefits. “Furloughed employees will receive unemployment benefits, and West Liberty Foods will pay them an additional 25% to supplement those benefits. In addition, we will pay the premiums for them to remain on our health insurance plan for the duration of the furlough.”

Currently, Waters predicts the furloughs to last 18 weeks. However, he did indicate that if demand for turkey increases, West Liberty Foods could consider requesting farmers to begin raising turkeys again sooner. Waters elaborated: “Depending on how fast our industry recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, the furlough may last for less than 18 weeks. We monitor the situation daily and continue to update our forecasts and plans. We will take every opportunity to shorten the furlough period, as we recognize the tremendous impact it has on our employees and turkey growers.”

With fewer employees in the plant during the furloughs, West Liberty Foods intends to make facility upgrades that will help them stay productive and competitive. At this time, the company has not provided specifics on the improvements they plan to make.