In this file:


·         Blowback from industry and union on OSHA for Smithfield/JBS fines

… blow-back from both the industry and the union…


·         United Food and Commercial Workers: OSHA’s Smithfield fine ‘a slap on the wrist’

·         JBS, one of the world’s largest meatpackers, hit with five-figure fine for Covid-19 violations

·         OSHA cites JBS, Smithfield Foods for failing to protect employees from coronavirus



Blowback from industry and union on OSHA for Smithfield/JBS fines


By Dan Flynn, Food Safety News by Marler Clark 

September 15, 2020


Those OSHA fines for not protecting employees from the coronavirus are getting blow-back from both the industry and the union.


The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) issued a statement after Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls, SD, and JBS USA in Greeley, CO, were hit with fines totaling about $29,000. Both Smithfield and JBS are appealing those fines, which local chapters of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) believe are low enough that they might lead to bad behavior by the companies. JBS USA is known as Swift.


Mark Lauritsen, UFCW’s vice president, claims the OSHA fines for Smithfield and JBS are merely about politics, enough to cover themselves politically. He says until now, OSHA had turned a blind eye to the issue. UFCW’s local unions have also spoken out.


Kim Cordova who heads the local at the Greeley beef plant says “tiny fines” are  “an incentive to make these workers work faster and harder in the most unsafe working conditions imaginable,”  Sandra Sibert, a union representative at the Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls, says. In March thousands of employees were packed on processing lines like “tuna in a can” without masks or hand sanitizers. She was infected with the virus, took several weeks to cover, and the warnings she issued resulted only in an email message saying her concerns were appreciated.


Four employees at the Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls died from the virus among 1,294 who tested positive. At the Greeley beef plant, 290 employees were infected and six died.


Outside of hospital and medical services, meat and poultry processing are one of the larger “essential” industries that have continued production during the pandemic.  The nonprofit Food Environmental Reporting Network reports 42,534 meat and poultry employees have tested positive for COVID-19 at the nation’s 494 meatpacking and processing plants. Among those, 203 or 0.47 percent died.


NAMI says OSHA’s Sept. 10 citation from its Sioux Falls office in Region 8 makes the sole allegation against Smithfield Foods that employees “were working in close proximity.”  And on Friday, Sept. 11, OSHA’s Denver office, also in Region 8, issued a citation to JBS USA with the same allegation of “proximity.”


The timeline below shows, according to NAMI, both national and international confusion over which measures were effective in stopping the spread of COVID-19.


“Not until April 3 did the CDC reverse its guidance and tell people to wear masks. Early in the pandemic, PPE and testing were difficult to obtain and some states, including South Dakota, were not issuing lockdown instructions to residents.” NAMI’S statement says. “And not until April 26 did CDC/OSHA release their joint guidance specific to the meat and poultry industry.”


But, it says OSHA’s citation faults Smithfield and JBS beginning back on March 22 and March 25, respectively, prior to CDC recommendations to wear a mask, but most important, prior to issuing their own guidelines for the industry.


Moreover, NAMI points out that Sioux Falls was shut down for 29 days within this time period and Greely was closed for 11. “If your head is spinning, we understand,” NAMI adds. “Equally confusing is that OSHA’s own citations in the abatement notes say the following regarding six feet between workers: ‘where feasible.’


“That acknowledgment also is found in abatement note 2, which begins, ‘When workers are unable to socially distance at least six feet’ and goes on to discuss the use of face shields or coverings, the use of barriers, etc. – all of which the companies have done and did for all or most of the time covered by the citation...





United Food and Commercial Workers: OSHA’s Smithfield fine ‘a slap on the wrist’


By Mark Gruenberg, People's World

September 14, 2020  


People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States.


WASHINGTON—The Trump regime’s $13,494 fine against the infamous Smithfield pork production plant in Sioux Falls, S.D.—a plant where company failure to protect workers against the coronavirus infected at least 1,300 of them and endangered the whole city—is a “slap on the wrist,” says Marc Perrone, president of the workers’ parent union, the United Food and Commercial Workers.


But the fine, though Perrone did not say so, also shows how weak the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is in enforcing the 50-year-old law.


That’s because the figure is the maximum OSHA could fine Smithfield for “one violation of its general duty clause for failing to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards that can cause death or serious harm,” to quote the agency’s language—even though four of the infected workers have died.


And Smithfield announced on September 11 that it will contest the fine, imposed the day before.


The dead Smithfield workers are among the 177 dead South Dakotans killed by the pandemic since it was officially recognized on March 13. The coronavirus has killed almost 200,000 nationwide, including 122 meatpacking plant workers UFCW knows about, Perrone adds.


The Sioux Falls Smithfield plant became infamous as a coronavirus hotspot despite efforts of UFCW Local 304, which represents the workers, and the state labor federation, led by Kooper Caraway, to stop the spread of the virus through the workforce and the 36,000-person city beyond it.


The federation and the city’s mayor pushed for preventive measures at Smithfield, including personal protective equipment (PPE) for plant workers, hard partitions, a slowdown in pork line speeds, handwashing breaks, and sanitizers.


The workers and the mayor also pushed for citywide anti-viral measures, such as mandatory masks in public places. But pressure from Trumpite GOP Gov. Kristi Noem—who refused to impose statewide protection—and from a crowd of right-wingers in its audience led the Sioux Falls City Council to vote the effort down.


“How much is the health, safety, and life of an essential worker worth?” Perrone asked. “Based on the actions of the Trump administration, clearly not much. This so-called ‘fine’ is a slap on the wrist for Smithfield and a slap in the face of the thousands of meatpacking workers who have been putting their lives on the line to help feed America since the beginning of this pandemic.”


“OSHA has been asleep at the switch throughout this pandemic and this is just the latest example of the agency failing to do their job and take responsibility for worker safety. If we truly care about protecting workers and our nation’s food supply during this pandemic, the federal government must take action, beginning with an enforceable national safety standard, increased access to PPE and COVID-19 [coronavirus] testing, and rigorous proactive inspections.”


“Smithfield is a multi-billion-dollar corporation that failed to protect its workers...





JBS, one of the world’s largest meatpackers, hit with five-figure fine for Covid-19 violations


by Sam Bloch, The Counter



It’s OSHA’s second Covid-related fine of a meatpacker, and labor advocates say it’s not nearly enough.


After six months of inaction, America’s workplace safety agency has now issued its second citation to a meatpacker for not protecting its workers from Covid-19.


On Friday, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) issued the fifth citation of the week, and second to a meatpacker, charging JBS, the world’s largest meat company, for the spread of coronavirus in its Greeley, Colorado, plant. The agency cited the company for a violation of the general duty clause, which requires employers to keep job sites free from recognized hazards that cause death or serious harm. JBS, which reported new infections at its Greeley plant through the summer, also failed to provide injury and illness logs after a May OSHA inspection.


But labor advocates said the citations, which add up to a fine of $15,615, amount to a slap on the wrist to the billion-dollar multinational company, and do not reflect the sacrifices made by essential workers during the pandemic. Six workers have died, and another 290 have been infected with the virus at the plant. Last week, OSHA also issued a citation to Smithfield Foods—another of the “Big Four” meatpackers—for a general duty clause violation at its Sioux Falls, North Dakota, plant, and fined the company $13,494.


After that citation was announced, The United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents thousands of workers at both plants, said the fines were “insulting,” and renewed calls for OSHA to do more to stop the spread of coronavirus in meat plants, which have been hotspots during the pandemic.


“How much is the health, safety, and life of an essential worker worth? Based on the actions of the Trump administration, clearly not much,” Marc Perrone, the union president, said in a statement. “This White House cares more about industry profits than protecting America’s essential workers.”


The union, and prominent Democrats such as Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, have urged OSHA to enact an emergency temporary standard to cite employers for violating specific Covid-19 safety measures, such as physical distancing or wearing face masks. Inspectors found Smithfield employees were working in close proximity to each other during the pandemic, and the company had not implemented measures to mitigate exposure, according to a citation reviewed by The Counter. The agency suggested that the company enforce physical distancing throughout the plant, or put up barriers and use faceshields and masks.


Employers can face larger fines for willful or repeated violations. David Michaels, a former OSHA head, tweeted that the agency went “very, very easy” on Smithfield, and could have issued numerous citations. “This easily could have been a multi-million dollar fine, given the number of workers sickened,” he added. “While still a tiny amount for a huge global corporation, it would have sent a powerful message to other firms and therefore made a contribution toward deterrence.”


Michaels and others have slammed OSHA during the pandemic, asserting that the agency has abdicated its responsibility to protect workers during the most serious public health crisis in generations. Prior to last week’s citations, the agency had cited only one employer, despite receiving over 8,000 coronavirus-related safety complaints since April. The agency has issued only voluntary guidance.


In July, the agency entered into an agreement with the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) to “provide information, guidance and access to training resources for protecting workers” to meat plants. The group, which is one of the top lobbyists for the meat industry, reportedly drafted President Trump’s executive order to keep meat factories open.


In a statement, NAMI claimed the citations were not valid, because they were based on investigations that began before guidance was issued in late April, and because the companies had implemented safety measures to protect their workforces. Representatives from JBS and Smithfield concurred in emails to The Counter.


“The OSHA citation is entirely without merit,” said JBS spokesman Cameron Bruett...





OSHA cites JBS, Smithfield Foods for failing to protect employees from coronavirus

Fines over $10K proposed for JBS, Smithfield Foods after virus outbreaks infected thousands of workers in Sioux Falls and Colorado.


By Tom Polansek and P.j. Huffstutter, Reuters

via Star Tribune (MN) - September 14, 2020


The U.S. Labor Department has cited Smithfield Foods and JBS for failing to protect employees from the coronavirus, making them the first two major meatpackers to face a federal fine after outbreaks at slaughterhouses infected thousands of workers.


The citation did little to quiet complaints from labor unions and safety advocates, who said the Trump administration needs to do more to protect workers critical to the nation's food supply.


Both JBS USA and Smithfield said the citations were without merit.


The Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposed fining Smithfield $13,494 and JBS $15,615.


The companies have until about the end of the month to respond and put into place safety measures.


OSHA cited Smithfield's plant in Sioux Falls, S.D., for "failing to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards that can cause death or serious harm," according to a statement.


At least 1,294 Smithfield workers contracted the coronavirus and four employees died this spring, OSHA said.


The JBS complaint stems from an outbreak at the company's plant in Greeley, Colo., where 290 have tested positive and six have died.


The citations issued to the companies said employees worked close to one another and were exposed to the virus.


They come as companies face increasing litigation over worker infections and mounting pressure to protect front-line employees.


In connection with a COVID-related inspection in Minnesota, the state's OSHA has already fined JBS $28,000 for what it deems four "serious" safety violations at the Pilgrim's Pride chicken processing plant in Cold Spring, Minn., and another $29,400 for five violations at the Worthington pork plant.


JBS USA, which owns both plants and is owned by the Brazilian meat giant, is contesting the citations. OSHA is also investigating several COVID-related fatalities, including investigations opened in May and June into two fatalities at the JBS pork plant in Worthington.


Critics of the more recent action by the federal OSHA said the Smithfield penalty was too small.


"It's not even a slap on the wrist," said David Michaels, a professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University, who served as U.S. assistant secretary of labor for OSHA under the Obama administration.


"After 1,300 workers have been infected, dozens hospitalized and four killed, a small fine like this sends the message to Smithfield and other meatpacking companies that they have no reason to worry about OSHA."


The Labor Department said in a statement that OSHA was committed to protecting workers and cited Smithfield in accordance with well-established procedures and legal standards.


As far as the JBS plant, OSHA Denver area director Amanda Kupper said the agency has industry guidance and other resources to assist in worker protection.


"Employers need to take appropriate actions to protect their workers from the coronavirus," she said.


But JBS spokesman Cameron Bruett said the citation "attempts to impose a standard that did not exist in March...


... Smithfield, owned by China's WH Group Ltd., also thinks the citation is without merit...