House Panel Investigating Meat Plant Deaths, Infections

One plant's OSHA fine after nearly 1,300 cases four deaths equated to less than $11 per infected employee.

A congressional panel is opening an investigation into the widespread COVID-19 infections and deaths of US meatpacking plant employees, saying that the Trump Administration didn’t do nearly enough to protect workers.

On Feb. 1, the chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis sent letters to OSHA, Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods and JBS USA informing them of the new investigation that follows reports of positive cases among nearly 54,000 workers at 569 meatpacking plants in the US, and 270 resulting deaths as of the end of January.

The subcommittee noted that under the Trump administration, OSHA issued only eight citations and less than $80,000 in total fines for coronavirus-related violations at meat plants — an amount subcommittee called “a paltry amount that has failed to curb dangerous conditions faced by many workers.”

As an example, the group noted that out of OSHA’s findings that nearly 1,300 workers at a Sioux Falls, SD Smithfield plant tested positive and four died, the company was fined just $13,494 — which equates to less than $11 per infected employee

Says subcommittee chairman James Clyburn: “In the last year, OSHA failed to issue enforceable rules, respond in a timely manner to complaints, and issue meaningful fines when a company’s unsafe practices led to the deaths of employees. As a result, I am concerned that under the Trump Administration, OSHA did not fulfill its mission to protect vulnerable meatpacking workers during the pandemic.”

The panel said that as of the end of January, Tyson Foods has had at least 12,000 positive employee cases and 38 deaths; JBS USA has had at least 3,000 positive cases and 18 deaths; and Smithfield has had over 3,500 cases and eight deaths.

The subcommittee is seeking documents from OSHA and from each company related to COVID infections and deaths at meatpacking plants and the enforcement of worker protections under the Trump administration.

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