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Smithfield Denies Wrongdoing But Pays Paltry OSHA Fine for Coronavirus Hazards; Workers Disappointed

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.

19 Comments

  1. larry kurtz 2021-11-17

    Smithfield pays a five figure fine every year so they can dump toxins into the Big Sioux River. Another wrist slap for endangering employees is just barely news. Why workers simply don’t walk away from these human slaughterhouses and force packers like Smithfield into bankruptcy remains a mystery.

  2. Bonnie B Fairbank 2021-11-17

    It’s just a matter of time before Smithfield pays their employees in scrip and forces them to shop at the company store.

  3. Bonnie B Fairbank 2021-11-17

    If they haven’t already.

  4. Loren 2021-11-17

    Of course they did nothing wrong, especially after they got OSHA to water down all the “will and shall” in the document to “if you find it convenient.”

  5. buckobear 2021-11-17

    The “fine” is no more than a rounding error considering the company’s income. Time for the workers to show their power.

  6. O 2021-11-17

    Larry, I don’t know if it is a version of “battered woman syndrome” or “Stockholm syndrome,” but through their labor, unionizing decisions, and their representation votes, SD workers ensure the owner class continues to do very well in SD at the workers’ peril. Workers have wasted their democratic (small d) advantage and ceded that HUGE advantage to the few.

  7. larry kurtz 2021-11-17

    It’s wage slavery pure and simple.

    It’s not always easy to find similarities with New Mexico and my home state of South Dakota but one correlation stands out: the growth in the Latino population is surging. In the Midwest the Latino community has grown 28 percent in the last decade and in the Southwest it’s grown nearly 20 percent. Venezuelans make up the largest inbound demographic.

    As young people and Democrats flee South Dakota more brown people are doing the work in the red moocher state. Meat processors and industrial agriculture employ the greatest numbers of Hispanics in South Dakota. Spanish speakers prop up the federally subsidized dairy industry East River but in Huron Karen refugees slaughter and process turkeys. So now that brown workers can take the driver’s license exam in Spanish white people can spend more time snorting and shooting meth.

    My sister is a former Elkton-Lake Benton High School Spanish teacher who has been tutoring students in math with English as a second language.

    Brookings County is home to a French-owned salted fat factory that relies on subsidized dairies threatening the Big Sioux River and its tributaries.

  8. Richard Schriever 2021-11-17

    Bonnie – when IU was a kid, and my dad worked at Morrell/Smithfield, the stuff we could get at the company store was the best they produced, not just at the local plant, but across their operations nationally (might as well have stuff in an otherwise empty reefer when headed from one plant to another) and at a really good discounted price. Could either pay cash or have it deducted from the weekly check. then again, the wages they paid then would equate to around $70/hr. in today’s money.

    But it wasn’t quite the treat it was when he worked at Fenn Brothers and brought home “damaged” tubs of ice cream, or cases of Walnut Crush, Bings and other goodies. Those didn’t require money OR script.

  9. Bonnie B Fairbank 2021-11-17

    That’s an interesting comment, Richard. I had no idea Morrell/Smithfield had (has?) a company store. I was thinking of the stories my parent’s older friends and relatives told us about Kaintuck and West Virginny coal mining.
    I’ll look up Bings and Walnut Crush–I grew up in unenlightened Indiana.

  10. ArloBlundt 2021-11-17

    Bonnie: there is nothing as good as a Bing and a cup of coffee….Walnut Crush disappeared many years ago. Fenn’s made great ice cream.

  11. WillyNilly 2021-11-17

    Over 30 years ago when the union struck against Morrell, and the couple times before, the local politicians and media were critical of union members and were rooting for the company to break the union. The employees were asking for too much. After all they were dumb unskilled packing house workers… how dare they expect the highest wages in town. And the benefit packages was really out of line… a pension plus health and dental where they paid at most a $5 deductible at an appointment. Greedy over paid packing house workers. So, how does that look now? Well, it looks like a decent wage and benefit package that all employees should have, especially the new citizens who have worked through Covid to earn record profits for the packers.

  12. Bonnie B Fairbank 2021-11-17

    Wait; wha…? A Bing? Better than a suitcase-sized Snickers bar and a cup of coffee? Say it ain’t so, Arlo.

  13. Porter Lansing 2021-11-17

    Corporate favoritism garnished with local government anti-union bias.

    Yet, still business won’t move to South Dakota.

    Why, amigos?

    #LaughOutLoud

  14. Mark Anderson 2021-11-17

    Hey folks, Republicans hate unions. They don’t want a level playing field. Unless it’s cops then they go bling. Cops exist on the unlevel playing field. Just keep filming them, that’s what’s really made the changes, such as they are.
    Smithfield doesn’t mind working people to death, this was just faster than usual.

  15. grudznick 2021-11-17

    Mr. Anderson, you are righter than right.
    Unions are bad, they are very bad.
    Republicans hate things that are bad.

  16. Porter Lansing 2021-11-17

    grudsznick – unions are for working women and men. You’re a lot of good things but you’re not that. Demeaning working folks is your forte’ and that’s okay. Do what you’re good at, Mr. Lansing believes.

  17. larry kurtz 2021-11-17

    A worker’s revolt could tip the political scales in my home state – exactly the scenario Mrs. Noem and her donors fear. A Democratic Farmer Labor coalition is a movement whose time has come.

  18. Donald Pay 2022-01-01

    Congratulations, leslie!!! You are the last one to post a comment in 2021. Thanks for a great comment to close out the year.

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