4 meat workers at a Smithfield plant died from COVID-19 – Feds fined the company $ 13,494

The US Department of Labor proposed Thursday that Smithfield Foods pay a $ 13,494 fine for failing to protect its workers at a meat processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where about 1,300 workers paid COVID-19 Contracted and four died.

The penalty, the maximum permitted by law, comes after the agency’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration examines the pork processing plant, Closed for several weeks in April and May Due to coronavirus outbreaks among employees. OSHA on March 23 cited not doing enough work ahead of previously known infections at the plant, such as laying out workers or covering the face and providing physical blockage.

Employers can take steps to protect workers during the epidemic, which has killed more than 191,000 Americans, details the agency’s guidance. Those include social disturbances, physical barriers, face shields and face covering, along with safety warnings communicated in a language that company workers understand.

“Employers should quickly implement appropriate measures to protect the safety and health of their workers,” OSHA Sixx Falls Area Director Sheila Stanley said in a news release. “Employers should fulfill their obligations and take necessary actions to prevent the spread of coronaviruses at their workplace.”

Smithfield Challenging Fine

Smithfield rejected OSHA’s findings without merit and said it would fight them.

“We took extraordinary measures on our initiative to keep our employees healthy and safe so that we can fulfill our obligation to maintain the food supply to the American people,” Keira Lombardo, executive vice president of corporate affairs and compliance, Keira Lombardo, An email states. “We incurred incremental expenses related to COVID-19’s total of $ 350 million during the second quarter alone. Ironically, OSHA then used what we had as a model for the April 26 guidance.”

According to Smithfield, the Sioux Falls community experienced an early spike in COVID-19 cases, affecting its plant. Lombardo said that in response to the company urging OSHA to visit its operations in March and April – appeals were ignored.

The agency responded in an email, “OSHA investigated it and issued its citation according to well-established procedures and legal standards. The risks and precautions were well-known from time to time and Smithfield gave them a timely manner. Not addressed. ” To CBS MoneyWatch.

Union: No “real consequences” for deaths

Both OSHA and Smithfield were condemned by the United Food and Commercial Workers, representing 1.3 million meatpacking and other essential workers, including the Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls.

“Markfield is a multi-billion dollar corporation that failed to protect its workers, with many deaths and over a thousand on their watch. OSHA’s response confirms that the company faces no real consequences Will not have to, ”said Mark Peron, international president of the union.

Plant workers worked elbow-to-elbow in about 5% of the country’s pork production. The UFCW has said that it tried to negotiate for more coronovirus protection leading to a spring outbreak.

Large outbreaks occurred at meatpacking plants across the country. United Food and Commercial Workers, the largest union representing meatpacking employees, has counted 122 meatpacking worker deaths.

Local media reported the death of only two Smithfield workers with the virus, with OSHA’s disclosure that four of Smithwild’s personnel had died of COVID-19.

OSHA began an investigation of Smithfield’s Sioux Falls plant on April 20, when a team from the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention advised how to operate a meatpacking facility during an epidemic.

OSHA subjugated South Dakota health officials in June, requiring them to change any test results, correspondence with Smithfield or photos of the plant. The following month, Smithfield asked the U.S. District Court of South Dakota to destroy the sub-region. The company’s legal move was later dismissed by the court following an agreement on the issues involved by Smithfield and OSHA.

A study released last month by the CDC found that 929 employees – a quarter of the plant’s workers – were infected, along with 210 close contacts. There were 853 employees previously reported by the state.

Meatpacking companies are aggressively defending themselves, subscribing to their role in feeding the country, and the plants should be shut down, warning of meat shortages. President Donald Trump signed an executive order in April to declare meatpacking plants as important infrastructure, and they remain largely open.

According to data from the US Department of Agriculture, US slaughterhouses have undergone more recovery from economic downturns with commercial red meat and pork production since 2019 this year.

BJ Motley, president of the Smithfield Workers’ Union in Sioux Falls, told the Associated Press that Smithfield implemented most of the measures suggested by the CDC, but workers still gather in close quarters at the plant.

But with the increasing demand for meat and the shortage of staff following the outbreak, Motley said, “They are pressing their workers too hard now.”

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.