In this file:


·         Union calls Smithfield OSHA settlement a betrayal

·         Smithfield settlement can’t be used in COVID lawsuits



Union calls Smithfield OSHA settlement a betrayal


Jacob Newton, KELOLand (SD)

Nov 16, 2021


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 304A chapter, which represents nearly 3,000 South Dakota workers, has issued a statement condemning a federal settlement with Smithfield announced Monday by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).


In 2020, an OSHA inspection of the Sioux Falls Smithfield plant led to the company being cited for failing to protect workers from COVID-19 hazards. In September 2020, OSHA reported that at least 1,294 Smithfield workers has contracted COVID-19, and four deaths had been tied to the plant. Two of those deaths were employees Craig Franken and Agustin Rodriquez, who died in April 2020.


In Sept. 2020 following the OSHA announcement, Smithfield representatives called the OSHA citation “wholly without merit” and announced that they would contest it, claiming the company had acted in an “aggressive and comprehensive manner” to protect their employees’ health.


In October 2021, a congressional report compiled by federal lawmakers indicated that more than 1,600 workers (about 42% of employees) at the Sioux Falls Smithfield plant had been infected with COVID-19. The report also charged that many meatpacking executives across the U.S. prioritized profits and production over worker safety.


Smithfield’s formal efforts to contest OSHA’s citation ended Monday when it was announced that the company had settled. As part of the agreement...


... The statement from the UFCW Local 304A criticized the new federal agreement for “weakening the citation for worker safety violations,” calling it a “clear failure to recognize the company’s safety issues.” The union also said the settlement “allows the company to police itself on worker safety by appointing its own team of experts to evaluate plant safety and preparedness, even as COVID-19 cases proliferate and risks to workers continue.”


Speaking with KELOLAND News Tuesday afternoon, Local 304A President BJ Motley called the way the settlement played out a betrayal...


more, including links, Congressional Memo, UFCW Release



Smithfield settlement can’t be used in COVID lawsuits


By: Jared Strong, Iowa Capital Dispatch 

November 16, 2021


Smithfield Foods agreed this week to pay the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration $13,494 to settle a citation for failing to protect its meatpacking employees in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, from exposure to the coronavirus last year, but the company didn’t admit it did anything wrong.


As such, the settlement can’t be “used or admitted in evidence in any proceeding or litigation” by affected workers, according to the settlement agreement obtained by Iowa Capital Dispatch.


Clauses that stipulate no admission of wrongdoing are common in settlements with governmental regulators, but OSHA’s oversight of meatpackers during the pandemic has already been highly criticized.


“Given the hundreds of meatpacking worker deaths associated with meatpacking plants, there is ample evidence of the grave risk they have faced at their jobs during the pandemic,” wrote U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., to OSHA in February. “Yet rather than use its authority to create an enforceable standard … OSHA only suggested non-binding guidance that companies are free to ignore.”


Clyburn is chairman of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, which revealed late last month that more than 59,000 workers of the five largest meatpackers in the country — including Smithfield — were infected by the virus, and about 270 of them died. That was about triple the previous estimates.


At Smithfield’s Sioux Falls plant, nearly 1,300 workers were infected and four died as of June 2020 in the early months of the pandemic, OSHA reported.


Packing plants were early incubators of the virus in Iowa. Counties with large beef- or pork-processing facilities had more than double the infection rates of counties without, according to a national study.


Gov. Kim Reynolds deemed the facilities an essential service and declined to close or limit them at the beginning of the pandemic as she did with other businesses. In May, she told a Fox News commentator the state was able to “ensure the employees that they were working in a safe environment” through widespread testing for infections.


As part of Smithfield’s settlement with OSHA, the company is required to convene a team of experts to evaluate its infectious disease protocols and then update those protocols based on the expert recommendations. Smithfield is expected to implement those procedures at all of its processing facilities by November 2022, according to the agreement.


“The terms of this settlement are intended to ensure that Smithfield employees receive the training and protective measures necessary to protect them from exposure to the infectious diseases at their facilities,” said Jennifer Rous, an OSHA regional administrator. “What happened at this (Sioux Falls) facility was tragic, and we must ensure that all steps in the agreement are followed to prevent a mass outbreak from happening again.”


The labor union that represents the workers of the Sioux Falls plant said it was disappointed by the settlement because it “failed to deliver the real accountability these South Dakota workers and their families deserve.”


“This deal is nothing more than a slap on the wrist for Smithfield and a deeply troubling betrayal of the men and women who have already sacrificed so much in this pandemic,” said B.J. Motley, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 304A.


Meatpacking plant outbreaks have spawned numerous lawsuits, including one against Smithfield in Missouri last year that sought greater health protections for workers. A federal judge dismissed that lawsuit because Smithfield had already instituted many of those protections and because the issue was under OSHA’s jurisdiction.


Other lawsuits against meatpackers have sought compensation for wrongful deaths, including one against Tyson Foods that alleges supervisors at its pork processing plant in Waterloo bet money on how many workers would be infected.


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