SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) — Smithfield says OSHA’s citation that it failed to protect its employees from COVID-19 is “without merit” and plans to contest it as a union representing thousands of meatpacking plant workers called the citation “a slap on the wrist.”
On Thursday, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Smithfield in Sioux Falls for failing to protect its employees from exposure to COVID-19 and proposed a $13,494 fine.
“Employers must quickly implement appropriate measures to protect their workers' safety and health,” said OSHA Sioux Falls Area Director Sheila Stanley. “Employers must meet their obligations and take the necessary actions to prevent the spread of coronavirus at their worksite.”
1,294 Smithfield employees contracted COVID-19 in spring 2020, leading to the deaths of four employees.
The pork processing plant in Sioux Falls was once the country’s largest coronavirus hotbed before it closed its doors on April 12. Smithfield resumed operations on May 7.
A union representing thousands of meatpacking plant workers is condemning a U.S. Department of Labor Fine issued against Smithfield Foods, calling it a “slap on the wrist.”
The United Food and Commercials Workers Union said the penalty is “completely insufficient in the wake of the company’s failure to protect meatpacking workers” at its Sioux Falls plant.
“How much is the health, safety, and life of an essential worker worth? Based on the actions of the Trump Administration, clearly not much,” UFCW President Mark Perrone said in the statement. “This so-called ‘fine’ is a slap on the wrist for Smithfield, and a slap in the face of the thousands of American meatpacking workers who have been putting their lives on the line to help feed America since the beginning of this pandemic.”
Perrone said statement is a confirmation from OSHA that Smithfield, a multi-billion-dollar corporation, will not face any “real consequences” over any COVID-19 outbreaks at its facilities.
Smithfield has 15 business days to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
Smithfield released a statement Thursday stating that the citation was “without merit” and that the company plans to contest the citation. You can read the full statement below.
This OSHA citation is wholly without merit and we plan to contest it. After an investigation that spanned many months and encompassed the review of over 20,000 pages of documents and 60 interviews, OSHA has issued only a singular citation under its catchall “general duty clause” for conditions that existed on and prior to March 23, 2020. This is notable because OSHA did not issue guidelines for the meatpacking industry until April 26, 2020.
Despite this fact, we figured it out on our own. We took extraordinary measures on our own initiative to keep our employees as healthy and safe as possible so that we could fulfill our obligation to the American people to maintain the food supply. We incurred incremental expenses related to COVID-19 totaling $350 million during the second quarter alone. Ironically, OSHA then used what we had done as a model for its April 26 guidance.
The fact is that the Sioux Falls community experienced an early spike in COVID-19 cases, which impacted our plant. We responded immediately, consulting with CDC, South Dakota Department of Health, USDA and many others. We also simultaneously and repeatedly urged OSHA to commit the time and resources to visit our operations in March and April. They did not do so.
More than anything, the outcome of OSHA’s comprehensive, full-court press investigation of our Sioux Falls, SD facility validates the aggressive and comprehensive manner in which we have protected the health and safety of our employees amid the pandemic. Again, the citation is wholly without merit and we plan to contest it.