Last week, the UFCW condemned the new U.S. Department of Labor fines on Smithfield Foods and JBS as insufficient and called on the White House and federal government to protect meatpacking workers as COVID-19 infections and deaths continue to climb.
The Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls, S.D., and the JBS plant in Greeley, Colo., are represented by our union and are members of UFCW Locals 304A and 7R. The UFCW sounded the alarm early in the pandemic about the risks these workers face, calling for action from public officials and company leaders to provide the critical safety equipment and measures needed to protect employees as the virus devastated meatpacking plants across the country. The UFCW recently confirmed that at least 122 meatpacking workers represented by our union have died and over 18,000 of our members in the meatpacking industry have been infected or exposed to COVID-19.
UFCW International President Marc Perrone released the following statement about the Smithfield fine:
“How much is the health, safety, and life of an essential worker worth? Based on the actions of the Trump Administration, clearly not much,” Perrone said. “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. OSHA has been asleep at the switch throughout this pandemic and this is just the latest example of the agency failing to do their job and take responsibility for worker safety. If we truly care about protecting workers and our nation’s food supply during this pandemic, the federal government must take action, beginning with an enforceable national safety standard, increased access to PPE and COVID-19 testing, and rigorous proactive inspections.
“Smithfield is a multi-billion dollar corporation that failed to protect its workers, with multiple deaths and more than a thousand infections on their watch,” Perrone added. “This response by OSHA confirms that the company will not face any real consequences. The failure by the Trump Administration to hold Smithfield accountable makes clear that this White House cares more about industry profits than protecting America’s essential workers. Our country’s meatpacking workers, and the millions of American they serve, deserve and expect better from those sworn to protect us.”
“The failure of the federal government to protect American workers and our nation’s food supply has reached new lows,” Perrone said. “With this latest ‘so-called fine,’ OSHA and the Department of Labor prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they do not care about holding irresponsible corporations accountable for the lives lost or worker safety.”
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, meatpacking workers and the UFCW have led the fight for better personal protective equipment, universal COVID-19 testing, better social distancing in plants, and the real and enforceable health and safety standards needed to keep these facilities safe,” Perrone added. “We have done our job, and all we have asked is that the federal government do its job and hold irresponsible employers accountable. This so-called ‘fine’ proves that this administration is incapable and unwilling to fulfill its duty to keep workers safe. Make no mistake, the Trump Administration has once again failed to honor what is its sacred responsibility – protect the American people. Our country’s meatpacking workers and the millions of Americans they serve, deserve and expect better from this administration and the leaders sworn to protect us.”