In September 2020, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Smithfield Foods $13,494, the maximum allowed by law, for failing to protect its Sioux Falls slaughterhouse workers from coronavirus. Given that four Smithfield Sioux Falls workers died from coronavirus, that’s under $3,400 per death, less than what Jason Ravnsborg had to pay in court for killing Joe Boever.
Smithfield still fought this slap on the wrist for fourteen months, only agreeing to pay up and develop an infectious-disease-prevention plan on Monday but still denying any wrongdoing and saying OSHA’s allegations are baseless.
Smithfield’s Sioux Falls workers say through their union that Smithfield is getting off far too easy:
As the union for Smithfield pork workers at the Sioux Falls plant, UFCW Local 304A criticized the new federal agreement for weakening the citation for worker safety violations, a clear failure to recognize the company’s safety issues, and allowing 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 [United Food and Commercial Workers Local 304A, press release, 2021.11.15].
UFCW Local 304A president B.J. Motley says OSHA and Smithfield are betraying the slaughterhouse workers and their dedication to protecting our wiener supply amidst greater risk than any of the suits at the negotiating table face:
Smithfield workers put their health at risk daily to make sure Americans could feed their families during this pandemic. The Sioux Falls plant experienced one of the most deadly and dangerous COVID-19 outbreaks in the country.
Our leaders have a responsibility to protect America’s frontline workers who have been bravely putting their lives at risk to keep our country’s food supply chain strong throughout this crisis. 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.
As the union for Sioux Falls Smithfield workers, UFCW Local 304A is disappointed that OSHA has failed to deliver the real accountability these South Dakota workers and their families deserve with meaningful action to strengthen worker safety protections [B.J. Motley, UFCW press release, 2021.11.15].
This disappointing settlement comes just a couple weeks after the union complained that Smithfield is wearing out workers by speeding up its production lines, haranguing employees, dropping sanitation measures, and neglecting social distancing.