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Industry and union reaction to OSHA for Smithfield / JBS fines

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These OSHA fines for failing to protect employees from the coronavirus are criticized by both the industry and the union.

The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) issued a statement after Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls, SD, and JBS USA in Greeley, CO, were fined approximately $ 29,000. Smithfield and JBS are appealing the fines, which the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) locals say are low enough to lead to bad corporate behavior. JBS USA is known as Swift.

UFCW vice president Mark Lauritsen says OSHA’s fines for Smithfield and JBS are just politics, enough to cover themselves up politically. He says OSHA has so far overlooked the problem. Local UFCW unions also spoke out.

Kim Cordova, who runs the local branch of the Greeley Meat Factory, says the “tiny fines” are “an incentive to get these workers to work faster and harder under the most dangerous working conditions imaginable, Sandra Sibert , union representative for the Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls, said. In March, thousands of employees were wrapped on processing lines like tuna in a box without a mask or hand sanitizer. She was infected with the virus, took several weeks to cover up, and the warnings she issued only resulted in an email message saying her concerns were appreciated.

Four employees at the Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls died from the virus among 1,294 who tested positive. At the Greeley butcher’s factory, 290 employees were infected and six died.

Outside of hospital and medical services, meat and poultry processing is one of the largest essential industries that continued to produce during the pandemic. The nonprofit Food Environmental Reporting Network reports that 42,534 meat and poultry workers have tested positive for COVID-19 at 494 meat processing and packaging plants nationwide. Of these, 203 or 0.47% died.

NAMI says the Sept. 10 quote from OSHA from its Sioux Falls office in Region 8 makes the only allegation against Smithfield Foods that employees were working nearby. And on Friday, September 11, the OSHA office in Denver, also in Region 8, issued a quote to JBS USA with the same allegation of proximity.

The timeline below shows, according to NAMI, both national and international confusion over effective measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“It wasn’t until April 3 that the CDC reversed its guidelines and told people to wear masks. At the start of the pandemic, PPE and testing were difficult to obtain and some states, including South Dakota, were not giving lockdown instructions to residents. NAMI’s statement says. “And it wasn’t until April 26 that the CDC / OSHA released their joint guidelines specific to the meat and poultry industry.”

But, he says the OSHA citation is lacking at Smithfield and JBS as of March 22 and March 25, respectively, ahead of the CDC’s recommendations to wear a mask, but most importantly, before releasing their own. guidelines for industry.

Additionally, NAMI points out that Sioux Falls was closed for 29 days during that time and Greely was closed for 11. “If your head is spinning, we understand,” NAMI adds. “Equally puzzling is that OSHA’s own quotes in the reduction notes say the following regarding six feet between workers: ‘where possible’.

“This recognition is also found in Reduction Note 2, which begins with ‘When workers are unable to socially distance themselves by at least six feet’ and goes on to discuss the use of face shields or coverings, the use of barriers, etc. companies have done this and have done so for all or most of the time covered by the quote.

“The only claim from the quotes is that the employees are working nearby, but CDC / OSHA guidelines recognize that it is not always possible to separate six feet away and the reduction notes in the quote itself also recognize. this fact and propose solutions – which have already been implemented. OSHA has said that companies who adhere to the Guide need not fear the citation, but the citation exists. Maybe Region 8 should contact the head office, ”he said.

NAMI also highlights the continued monitoring by the Food and Environmental Reporting Network of COVID-19 associated with meat and poultry workers, which is on the decline.

“But we have to be vigilant to maintain this trend and the meat and poultry companies will do everything to ensure that this trend continues,” he said.

NAMI is the leading voice for the meat and poultry industry. Its members process the vast majority of beef, pork, lamb and poultry in the United States, and manufacture the equipment and ingredients necessary to produce the safest and most reliable meat and poultry products. high quality. UFCW’s 1.3 million members represent employees involved in the grocery, retail, chemical, packaging and processing industries.

Chronology:

March 11 –World Health Organization (WHO) declares pandemic.

2-3 April: President Trump’s problems Executive orders use the Defense Production Act to speed up production of respirators and ventilators and an ordinance to prevent domestic manufacturers from exporting personal protective equipment. The media are starting to report shortages of masks and PPE across the country.

April 3: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revoke mask policy and now recommend face covers to help stop the spread of the virus.

April 12: Smithfield Sioux Falls Plant closes. The company details all of the measures it had already implemented to protect and support employees, which include mandatory 14-day COVID-19-related quarantines with pay as part of an uncompromising effort to protect its employees. dedicated employees. The company has also relaxed its attendance policies to eliminate any punitive effects for missing work due to the diagnosis or quarantine of COVID-19. In addition, Smithfield is taking many steps to minimize the risk of his team members contracting COVID-19. These include adding additional hand disinfection stations, strengthening personal protective equipment, continuing to emphasize the importance of personal hygiene, improving cleaning and disinfection, expanding employee health benefits, implementing thermal scanning, increasing social distancing, installing plexiglass and other physical barriers, and restricting anything that is not essential. visitors.

April 9: Inspectors from the Food Safety and Inspection Department are authorized to make their own facial covers due to the difficulty in obtaining masks.

April 13: JBS USA announces closing of the Greeley cattle plant. The company details the efforts it made prior to this shutdown to stop the spread of the virus: To date, JBS USA has adopted the following safety measures, health protocols, and benefits at all of its facilities: increase sanitation and disinfection efforts, including daily deep cleaning of facilities; promoting physical distancing by staggering departures, shifts and breaks, and increasing spacing in cafeterias, breaks and locker rooms, including Plexiglas dividers in key areas; dedicate staff to the continuous cleanliness of the facilities; testing the temperature of all team members before entering our facilities, including the use of hands-free thermometers and thermal imaging test technology in numerous locations; provide additional personal protective equipment (PPE), including protective masks which must be worn at all times; remove vulnerable populations from our facilities, offering full pay and benefits; forcing sick team members not to work at home; waive short-term disability waiting periods; relax attendance policies so that people do not come to work sick; provide 100% free of charge preventive care for all team members; offering free LiveHealth Online services that allow free virtual doctor visits.

April 14 and 16: CDC National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) inspects JBS USA Greeley

April 24: JBS United States reopens the Greeley factory, which operates under the name Swift.

April 26: 15-13 a few days after the closure of Sioux Falls and Greely, OSHA / CDC issues guidelines for processing meat and poultry and repeatedly recognizes that it is not possible in all circumstances in a factory for employees to work six feet apart.

April 28: Labor attorney Kate OScannlain and OSHA Deputy Principal Under Secretary Loren Sweatt publish a Application policy statement regarding meat and poultry processing facilities which says: To the extent employers determine that certain measures are not feasible in the context of specific plants and circumstances, they are encouraged to document why this is the cases … In the event of an investigation, OSHA will consider good faith attempts to follow guidelines on joint meat processing. OSHA does not plan to name any employers who adhere to the Common Meat Processing Directive.

May 7: CDC inspects Smithfield Sioux Falls, and the plant resumes operations on May 11.

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