Smithfield Foods has become the first meat processor to be penalized by the federal government in connection with the pandemic.
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has issued a $13,494 fine, the maximum possible, against Smithfield for an outbreak of COVID-19 at its plant in Sioux Falls, S.D. More than 1,200 workers there contracted the disease, with four deaths. The agency ruled that Smithfield had failed to provide a workplace free from potentially deadly hazards.
Smithfield says it will contest the decision, claiming that it was being fined for conditions in March when OSHA didn’t issue guidelines on distancing and other workplace procedures until April.
OSHA’s decision came under harsh criticism from advocates from both workers and industry. Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, told the Wall Street Journal that “OSHA has been asleep at the switch throughout this pandemic” and accusing it of “failing to do their job.”
The CEO of the Meat Institute, Julie Anna Potts, issued a statement accusing OSHA of “revisionism” and of issuing “inconsistent and sometimes tardy government advice.”