In this file:
· Meatpacking Plants Turn To Trump For Backup Against Lawsuits
· DOJ silent after calls to investigate price fixing among meat packing companies
· Pork Buyers Say `Essential' Tag Bolsters Their Antitrust Case
Meatpacking Plants Turn To Trump For Backup Against Lawsuits
The administration is “throwing blue-collar workers under the bus” to protect meat-processing giants, labor advocates say.
By Alexander C. Kaufman, HuffPost
As more than 10,000 workers in meat-processing plants have fallen sick with the coronavirus and at least 30 have died, corporate food giants facing liability lawsuits are turning to a powerful ally: the White House.
On April 30, two days after President Donald Trump ordered meatpacking facilities to stay open amid the pandemic, a lawyer defending Smithfield Foods told a judge that the company expected federal regulators to come to its defense.
The country’s largest pork processor had been accused of failing to protect workers at its Milan, Missouri, plant. At a preliminary hearing in Kansas City, Missouri, Smithfield lawyer Alexandra Cunningham said the Department of Labor would provide “support to employers” and “come in and talk about” the company’s compliance with federal standards.
“They’re not suggesting in any way that ... private litigants can go around the country and try to enforce their standards,” she said, according to a court transcript. “I feel pretty confident we could get a statement from [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration stating] that’s not the case if the Court is inclined to interpret it that way.”
The statement raised red flags for legal experts who interpreted it to mean “the Department of Labor is more interested in coming up with ways to protect companies than to protect workers,” said Adam Pulver, an attorney at the consumer watchdog Public Citizen.
“The Department of Labor has a duty to the workers who are putting their health and safety at risk every day,” Pulver, a former senior attorney at the Labor Department under President Barack Obama, told HuffPost this week. “To the extent that the Department of Labor is collaborating with meatpacking plants, it should be open and transparent about all of those conversations.”
The Labor Department did not respond to a request for comment. But a week after a judge dismissed the case, on the grounds that Smithfield had addressed its federal safety standards since the lawsuit was filed, a top Senate Republican aide told Bloomberg Law that shielding companies from liability in worker suits was Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia’s “bailiwick.”
Deputy Labor Secretary Pat Pizzella stopped short of confirming outright that Scalia was working directly with lawmakers to craft legislation that would protect employers from virus-related lawsuits.
“All I can say is this issue is one that he is quite familiar with given his background, so it’s not unusual that people are seeking his input, but I don’t want to go into any details,” Pizzella said.
The Trump administration’s offer of help to meatpacking companies comes as the president presses federal and state officials to abandon lockdown measures that scientists say are saving tens of thousands of lives, and to reopen businesses in a bid to revive the economy ahead of November’s election. Just this week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture lauded the restart of meat production at 14 facilities, including two Smithfield pork plants in Illinois and South Dakota.
But without new safety measures, the reopening amounted to what the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union ― the nation’s largest food workers union, representing more than 250,000 workers in the meatpacking and food processing industries ― called “a reckless move that will put American lives at risk and further endanger the long-term security of our nation’s food supply.”
‘It Took So Long For Him To Get A Break That He Peed His Pants’ ...
More Help For Meatpacking Companies, Not Workers ...
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DOJ silent after calls to investigate price fixing among meat packing companies
by AJ Capuano, KTVO (MO)
May 14th 2020
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Calls to investigate alleged 'anti-competitive' practices within livestock markets grow louder, the U.S. Department of Justice remains silent as to whether they are looking into the issue.
A bipartisan group of 19 U.S. Senators now join attorneys general from Missouri, Iowa, and other ranching states, as well as ranchers’ advocates, in calling for investigations into claims that a handful of meat packing companies are "squeezing" ranchers when the companies purchase livestock from them.
Multiple letters asking for investigations into global meat processing companies--namely, Smithfield, Tyson, JBS, and Cargill-- have hit U.S. Attorney General William Barr's desk recently. They claim that this handful of companies is forcing American ranchers to sell for less, even as the price of "boxed" meat products rises, and profit outlooks remain rosy for the giants.
"Any kind of livestock meat production in our state, right now they’re feeling the squeeze," said U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Missouri).
There's only two or three meat packers operating in the country, and they are providing prices to farmers that are lower and lower, and charging consumers, the finished product, more and more,' Sen. Hawley said.
A reporter asked President Trump about the issue last week, during a White House meeting with Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds.
I've asked [Barr] to take a very serious look into it, said President Donald Trump during a meeting with press on May 6.
Neither the U.S. Department of Justice nor Barr himself have issued any official statement on the matter since it was brought up.
An Associated Press report found that, even as covid-19 ravages worker populations at the U.S.’s meatpacking plants, exports from these companies have increased in recent months.
"Meat exports, particularly pork exports to China, grew significantly throughout the first three months of the year," the AP writes.
AP went on to say that "experts say it shouldn't [be of concern to Americans] because much of the meat sold to other countries is cuts that Americans generally don't eat." Still, the contrast appears to be alarming, since companies like Smithfield operate in the United States, while proceeds from the sale of exports manufactured at U.S. plants benefits foreign economies.
Missouri Cattlemen's Association president Marvin Dieckman told meatpoultry.com last month that, “one segment of the industry is making unprecedented profits while the rest of us are counting pennies. We cannot afford to wait another eight months for results of an investigation. We need DOJ to open an investigation immediately.”
U. S. Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue...
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Pork Buyers Say `Essential' Tag Bolsters Their Antitrust Case
By Matthew Perlman, Law360
May 12, 2020
Law360 (May 12, 2020, 6:28 PM EDT) -- Pork buyers suing Smithfield, Tyson and other major producers over an alleged conspiracy to inflate prices have told a Minnesota federal court that a White House executive order meant to ensure that meatpackers continue operating during the coronavirus pandemic shows the producers can hike prices by reducing output.
Several groups of buyers on Monday filed a joint request for the court to take judicial notice of President Donald Trump's April 28 executive order that designated meatpacking plants as critical infrastructure amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The request points to language in the order saying that closing meat and poultry processing facilities can severely affect the food supply chain and that the closure of a single plant can disrupt the supply of protein to an entire chain of grocery stores.
"The executive order contains information regarding the dramatic effect even small output reductions can have on supply of pork at the grocery store," the request said. "These statements are consistent with plaintiffs' allegations that by coordinating output and limiting production, defendants were able to manipulate pork prices on a statistically significant scale."
The order designated beef, pork and poultry processing facilities as critical under the Defense Production Act, a move meant to shore up the supply chain after outbreaks of the virus, and pressure from local authorities and unions, caused closures and disruptions at several facilities around the country.
The order tasks the U.S Department of Agriculture with taking "all appropriate action" to ensure meat processors continue operating, while also following recent guidance on worker safety from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It was meant to address concerns about potential liability for packing companies.
The pork buyers said in Monday's request for notice that the processors have contended in trying to get the suit dismissed that small supply cuts can't affect prices and that the executive order lends additional credibility to the buyers' claims.
Shana Scarlett of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, an attorney for end-buyer consumers, told Law360 on Tuesday the order recognizes the impact that closing even a single plant can have, "further supporting plaintiffs' allegations that the defendants colluded on the supply and price of pork."
The proposed class action dates back to June 2018, and accuses producers including Tyson Foods Inc., Smithfield Foods Inc., JBS USA and various affiliates, of manipulating the price of pork by restricting supply starting as early as 2009. The purchasers say that the companies colluded by coordinating public statements and sharing price information.
The suit also names data compiler and Eli Lilly & Co. unit Agri Stats Inc., in addition to the processing giants, as supplying some of the information that fed the alleged conspiracy.
In addition to the consumer class, the litigation also includes allegations from direct purchasers of pork and indirect purchasers that resold pork, such as restaurants, as well as individual retailers.
U.S. District Judge John Tunheim dismissed claims from three groups of buyers in August last year, finding that the industry-wide data they provided wasn't enough to show the processors were acting in concert. But the judge gave them a chance to amend their complaint.
In February the buyers urged the court not to toss their renewed complaint, contending it details the "method, manner, means, and timing of each of the defendant's supply cuts in furtherance of the conspiracy."
An attorney for Smithfield...
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