The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) fined Smithfield Foods-owned meatpacking plant, Farmer John, with more than $100,000 in fines for alleged COVID-19 safety violations. According to a press release on Monday from the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Local 770 (UFCW Local 770), this is the largest fine for COVID-19 pandemic related violations given to a meatpacking plant in the United States.
According to the release, over 315 workers at the plant contracted COVID-19 since March, and at least three of them have been hospitalized. UFCW Local 770 reported that it called for a closure of the plant, and an investigation by Cal/OSHA in May. Smithfield Foods has received similar fines from federal regulators, as have multiple other meatpacking companies.
Workers at the Farmer John plant have reportedly been asking for increased safety measures, Jose Guzman reportedly said he and other workers “have taken it on ourselves to call for safer working conditions and an investigation from Cal/OSHA.” He said the company has “never taken our health seriously – we are disposable to them as long as their profits keep going up, and it’s no surprise to see this many citations given.”
The press release said that the company did not allow employees to physically distance, provide training or instruction about preventing the spread of COVID-19, notify employees of possible exposure to the virus, notify Cal/OSHA about hospitalizations, or provide facemask protocols.
“Nothing Smithfield, nor local Farmer John management, has done has been in the interest of workers. Even back in May when cases spiked to 135 workers sickened with COVID-19, one of the worst outbreaks in Los Angeles County, they did not address safety concerns and they ignored recommendations and concerns from their own employees, instead, the number has now risen to over 315,” said John Grant, president of UFCW Local 770. “The working conditions there have been horrific, and these citations show exactly what workers were exposed to every day they were on the job.”
Although the Cal/OSHA had not yet released a report of the citations, the press release said Smithfield was cited for $58,000 and its subcontractor which oversees the facility was cited for $47,000.