A meatpacking company is, incredibly, contesting a small slap on the wrist after four workers died of COVID-related illnesses.
The U.S. Department of Labor on Thursday proposed that Smithfield Foods pay a $13,494 fine for failing to protect its employees at a meat processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where nearly 1,300 workers contracted COVID-19 and four died.
The penalty, the maximum allowed by law, comes after the agency’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration probed the pork processing plant, whichdue to an outbreak of the coronavirus among employees. OSHA cited Smithfield for not doing enough ahead of the first known infections at the plant March 23, such as spacing out workers or providing face coverings and physical barriers.
The agency’s guidance details steps employers can take to protect workers during the pandemic, which has killed more than 191,000 Americans. Those include social distancing, physical barriers, face shields and face coverings, along with safety warnings communicated in a language that a company’s workers understand . . .
Smithfield dismissed OSHA’s findings as without merit and said it would contest them.
‘We took extraordinary measures on our own initiative to keep our employees as healthy and safe as possible so that we could fulfill our obligation to the American people to maintain the food supply,’ Keira Lombardo, Smithfield’s executive vice president of corporate affairs and compliance, stated in an email . . .”
According to Smithfield, the Sioux Falls community experienced an early spike in COVID-19 cases, which affected its plant. The company’s response included urging OSHA to visit its operations in March and April — appeals that were ignored, Lombardo said.
‘OSHA conducted its investigation and issued its citation in accordance with well-established procedures and legal standards. The risks and precautions needed were well-known at the time and Smithfield did not address them in a timely manner,’ the agency replied in an email to CBS MoneyWatch.
Both OSHA and Smithfield were condemned by the United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents 1.3 million meatpacking and other essential workers, including those at the Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls.
‘Smithfield is a multi-billion-dollar corporation that failed to protect its workers, with multiple deaths and more than a thousand infections on their watch. This response by OSHA confirms that the company will not face any real consequences,’ Marc Perrone, the union’s international president, said in an email.”
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