House Panel Investigating Meat Plant Deaths, Infections

Some 54,000 workers were infected at meatpacking plants, but regulators only issued a handful of citations.

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

On Feb. 1, the chairman of the House 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 U.S. — and 270 resulting deaths.

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, which the panel called “a paltry amount that has failed to curb dangerous conditions faced by many workers.”

As an example, the group noted that after OSHA’s found that nearly 1,300 workers at a Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Smithfield plant tested positive and four died, the company was fined just $13,494 — which equated to less than $11 per infected employee.

Subcommittee chairman Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., said, “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 had at least 12,000 positive employee cases and 38 deaths; JBS USA had at least 3,000 positive cases and 18 deaths; and Smithfield had over 3,500 cases and eight deaths.

The subcommittee is seeking documents from OSHA and 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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