About 400 workers were back on the job at the JBS beef plant in Souderton, Pa., versus about 1,500 who would work in a typical day, said Wendell Young IV, the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776, which represents workers at the plant. A JBS beef plant in Cactus, Texas, canceled work for many employees scheduled for one of its shifts on Wednesday, according to a Facebook post meant for workers.
Mr. Young added that the company had told the union that the plant would be running essentially as normal by Thursday, although workers’ start times would be delayed by a few hours.
JBS has not said whether it has paid its attackers and did not return requests for comment.
The disruptions come at a time when prices for beef as well as chicken and pork have been skyrocketing. Meatpacking plants are struggling to meet high demand, largely because of the same labor-shortage issues that restaurants and other industries have struggled with in the pandemic.
“We’ve got this logjam happening at the slaughterhouses, and that’s happening when demand, both domestic and export, has been exceptional,” said Don Close, a senior animal protein analyst at RaboResearch.
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In recent months, reopened restaurants began putting in orders for beef, pork and poultry again and people began gathering and grilling outside as vaccination levels rose and the weather became warmer. The increase in demand, combined with the hiring challenges, has caused wholesale beef prices to shoot up 49 percent since mid-March and prices of steak cuts to skyrocket 64 percent, according to the Department of Agriculture.
“Everyone suddenly woke up to the reality that we didn’t have enough product around,” said Altin Kalo, the head economist at Steiner Consulting Group, which analyzes and creates forecasts about the protein industry.
Mark Lauritsen, the international vice president who oversees meatpacking for the food workers union, said that many meatpacking plants in the United States have been about 10 to 20 percent below full staffing levels but that the situation was gradually improving as the union negotiated wage increases with companies like JBS.