OSHA, Smithfield Foods Pork Plant Settle COVID Complaint


The Associated Press

via WCCO-TV CBS Minnesota - November 16, 2021


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Federal workplace safety regulators announced Monday that they have reached an agreement with Smithfield Foods to settle a contested citation of the company’s coronavirus safety measures during a massive outbreak last year at a South Dakota pork processing plant.


Under the agreement, Virginia-based Smithfield Foods will develop a plan to prevent infectious diseases at meatpacking plants nationwide and pay a $13,500 fine.


Smithfield’s Sioux Falls plant was one the nation’s worst COVID-19 hotspots during the early days of the pandemic. By June 16, 2020, four workers were dead and nearly 1,300 had tested positive for the virus, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. After an investigation, the federal agency said Smithfield did not do enough to space workers out or provide other safety measures such as face coverings or physical barriers.


However, the company contested that assessment and defended its actions at a time when safety precautions against COVID-19 were not clear.


Smithfield’s spokesman, Jim Monroe, said the company admitted no wrongdoing and called OSHA’s allegations “baseless.”


“Settling with OSHA and avoiding litigation allows Smithfield to continue the good relations it has with the agency, as we have the shared goal of workplace safety,” he said.


The president of the local United Food and Commercial Workers union, B.J. Motley, derided the settlement and $13,500 fine as 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.”


Employees at the plant have said Smithfield did not do enough last year to prevent infections in the plant, where workers labored elbow-to-elbow as they processed nearly 5% of the country’s pork. The union at the plant has said that it had been attempting to negotiate for more coronavirus protections leading up to the outbreak. After cases kept accumulating, Smithfield shuttered its plant for nearly three weeks.


Smithfield has agreed to...