By Yueqi Yang
JBS Foods, the world’s largest meat producer, was issued a $15,615 fine for failing to protect staff from the coronavirus in a Colorado facility where at least six workers have reportedly died.
The fine from the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, announced late Friday, came one day after U.S. regulators issued a penalty of $13,494 for a similar infraction by Smithfield Foods Inc., the first sanction against a meatpacker connected with a deadly Covid-19 outbreak.
The fine levied against Smithfield drew outrage as inadequate from two senators, a former safety official and a major national union. OSHA said it was the maximum allowed by law.
Sao Paulo-based JBS on Saturday called the OSHA citation “entirely without merit,” saying the federal agency was attempting to “impose a standard that did not exist in March” when the meat producer fought the pandemic “with no guidance.”
The company’s Greeley, Colorado, facility “is in full compliance” with all recommended guidance, and has been audited by health and government experts, JBS said.
OSHA also said the fine against JBS was the maximum allowable. JBS has 15 business days to comply, request an informal conference, or contest the findings.
Six workers from the Greeley plant have died from coronavirus, according to Food & Environment Reporting Network, a non-profit that tracks outbreaks in America’s food system.
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, which represents more than 3,000 workers at the plant, put the death toll at seven in an emailed statement, and said the small fine “incentivizes the company to continue endangering its employees.”
“It is immoral and unethical, but in the current administration, unfortunately not illegal, that OSHA waited seven months to investigate the unsafe working conditions that led to this deadly outbreak,” said Kim Cordova, president of UFCW Local 7.
The meatpacking industry was an early epicenter of coronavirus as the disease rapidly spread among its often poorly paid, immigrant employees working in close quarters for extended periods. As of Sept. 11, at least 252 workers in meatpacking, food processing and farm had died, FERN’s data show.
The Greeley facility has had 14 confirmed cases in the past three and half months, the company said in a statement.