In this file:
· Smithfield Fined $58,000 For Serious COVID Hazards At California Plant
… Smithfield, through its Farmer John subsidiary, failed to space workers apart on the processing lines…
· Smithfield Foods, subcontractor fined $100,000 for COVID-19 violations in California
… California's regulator, known as Cal/OSHA, issued "the largest citation at a meatpacking plant nationwide" to Smithfield's Farmer John plant in Vernon, California, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union…
· Cal/Osha fines Farmer John for hundreds of COVID-19 cases
… Smithfield Foods Chief Administrative Officer Keira Lombardo said the company fully complied...
· OSHA comes under fire for 'paltry' fines and lax guidance to meat plants
Smithfield Fined $58,000 For Serious COVID Hazards At California Plant
Regulators also hit the meatpacking giant’s temp staffing firm with another $40,000 in violations.
By Dave Jamieson, HuffPost
Nov 16, 2020
The state of California issued more than $58,000 in fines against Smithfield Foods after investigating the meat producer for coronavirus hazards.
Investigators with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health found that Smithfield, through its Farmer John subsidiary, failed to space workers apart on the processing lines at its Vernon, California, plant. An outbreak among the workforce there left more than 100 workers positive for COVID-19 and three hospitalized.
The state also issued coronavirus-related fines totaling roughly $46,000 against Citistaff Solutions, a temp staffing firm used by Smithfield at the same plant. Investigators cited the firm for the same general failures in protecting workers from exposure to COVID-19.
Altogether, the fines against Smithfield and Citistaff at the one facility came to more than $100,000, making it one of the biggest workplace safety fines so far against a U.S. employer stemming from a coronavirus investigation.
A Smithfield spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. The fines were issued Thursday after a nearly six-month investigation.
Officials opened the investigation in late May after complaints from the workers’ union, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 770. The union had demanded that the plant be closed after more than 130 infections became known at that point. The plant remained open.
On Monday, the union released a statement attributed to Jose Guzman, an employee at the plant.
“In the absence of leadership from Smithfield, we have taken it on ourselves to call for safer working conditions and an investigation from [the state],” Guzman said...
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Smithfield Foods, subcontractor fined $100,000 for COVID-19 violations in California
By Tom Polansek, Reuters
via Investing.com - Nov 16, 2020
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Smithfield Foods, the world's biggest pork processor, and a subcontractor face fines of more than $100,000 from California's workplace safety regulator for failing to protect employees from COVID-19 and other violations during the pandemic.
The penalties increase pressure on Chinese-owned Smithfield over U.S. working conditions during the health crisis, after federal regulators hit the meatpacker and others with smaller fines.
California's regulator, known as Cal/OSHA, issued "the largest citation at a meatpacking plant nationwide" to Smithfield's Farmer John plant in Vernon, California, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents meatpacking workers.
More than 315 workers out of 1,800 at the plant contracted COVID-19 since March, with at least three people hospitalized, the union said.
Smithfield and its subcontractor, CitiStaff Solutions, failed to ensure employees used masks and had physical barriers like plexiglass between them to keep them safe, according to Cal/OSHA.
The companies also failed to train employees on the risks of COVID-19, including how the virus spreads and how they could avoid infection, the regulator said.
Nearly 20 meat plants run by companies like Smithfield, Tyson Foods (N:TSN) and JBS (SA:JBSS3) closed temporarily this spring because of outbreaks among workers, limiting supplies.
Smithfield, owned by WH Group (HK:0288), said it will appeal the citations.
The company said it provided masks, face shields and other personal protective equipment to workers during the time covered by the citations. The citations also cover a time when employers were told not to require masks, according to Smithfield.
Cal/Osha fines Farmer John for hundreds of COVID-19 cases
John Rogers, Associated Press
via Journal Courier (IL) - November 16, 2020
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Southern California's huge Farmer John meatpacking plant on the edge of Los Angeles has been assessed more than $58,000 for safety violations state officials say exposed more than 300 workers to COVID-19 infections, including three who were hospitalized.
The state Department of Industrial Relations, known as Cal/Osha, says the violations were uncovered during an investigation that took place at the Vernon, California, plant between May and November, adding that some serious COVID-19 infections were traced as early as February.
The plant's corporate owner, Smithfield Foods of Virginia, said Monday it has worked hard to ensure employees at all its plants remain safe from COVID-19 and will aggressively contest the $58,100 in proposed penalties.
Meatpacking and poultry processing plants across the country, where employees work in close proximity slaughtering animals for food, have been a hotbed for infections since the coronavirus struck early this year.
In July, the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 16,000 cases in 23 states.
Cal/Osha reported in September that it issued more than $200,000 in proposed penalties against frozen food manufacturer Overhill Farms Inc. and the agency it contracts with for failing to protect hundreds of employees at two plants in Vernon.
Local 770 of the United Food and Commercial Workers union said its complaints prompted the recent investigation of Farmer John, where thousands of pigs are slaughtered to make hot dogs, sausages, bacon and other products.
“In the absence of leadership from Smithfield, we have taken it on ourselves to call for safer working conditions and an investigation from Cal/OSHA,” said Farmer John employee Jose Guzman.
The union said Farmer John employment contractor CitySolutions Inc. was also issued $47,000 in separate penalties. CitiSolutions, whose contract workers are mentioned in the Farmer John citations, declined to comment and Cal/Osha didn't immediately elaborate.
One of several citations Cal/Osha issued against Farmer John said the company failed to report three employees who were hospitalized with the coronavirus between Feb. 14 and April 28. The agency also said its inspection revealed the company “failed to consider at least 303 COVID-19 illnesses of its own employees and contract employees of CitiStaff Solutions.”
Smithfield Foods Chief Administrative Officer Keira Lombardo said the company fully complied...
OSHA comes under fire for 'paltry' fines and lax guidance to meat plants
While critics call the citations too small, companies including Smithfield and JBS have denounced the fines, saying they followed recommendations for the pandemic once they were available.
Lillianna Byington, FoodDive
Nov. 17, 2020
Back in 1988, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined a meatpacking plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, owned by John Morrell & Co., $4.3 million for three willful violations of the general duty clause of the OSH Act of 1970 after more than 40% of the 2,000 workers at the facility developed cumulative trauma injuries like tendonitis and carpal tunnel. In a settlement, the fines were later dropped down to $990,000.
About 32 years later, the coronavirus has spread in meat plants across the country, including that same plant in Sioux Falls, which is now owned by Smithfield Foods. As at least 1,294 Smithfield employees got the virus and four died at that same South Dakota plant, OSHA proposed a $13,494 fine for violating its general duty clause, saying it was the maximum permitted by law. It gave the same reason for a $15,615 fine it issued to a JBS plant in Colorado soon after.
But former leaders at OSHA and legislators point to previous fines — like the one in 1988 — to say that isn’t the case.
"It is absolutely not true that those were the maximum fines they could give to these meatpacking plants," said Debbie Berkowitz, who previously worked at OSHA and is now the worker safety and health program director at the National Employment Law Project. "The fines reflected their decision just to issue one smaller citation. However, I think these small fines … are even less than a slap on the wrist."
In those two fines to JBS and Smithfield, which totaled less than $30,000, OSHA cited the companies for one serious citation each, where the maximum is $13,494 per violation. Under the general duty clause, which requires companies to keep the workplace "free from recognized hazards that can cause death or serious harm," the agency’s maximum fine for a willful citation is now $134,937.
A serious violation is used if there is a likelihood that death or serious harm could result from a condition at work unless the employer didn’t and couldn’t have known, while a willful violation is when a company demonstrated intentional disregard for the Act’s requirements or indifference to employee health, according to OSHA. Some say that plants could have received more than one citation or a willful violation.
David Michaels, head of OSHA during the Obama administration, tweeted that “OSHA went VERY VERY easy on Smithfield.” Michaels said “OSHA could have issued numerous citations” and “if OSHA asserted they were willful, the penalty could be 10X as high.” He told Government Executive these could have been willful violations because Smithfield and JBS “clearly knew the hazard existed and it was feasible to abate the hazard.”
Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) sent a letter to OSHA...
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