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Civil Eats

Trump's OSHA: $1,875 per Meatpacker Death

After causing 8 deaths JBS Foods gets a measly $15,000 fine

Brian Young's picture
Sep 14, 2020

At 7:15 PM on a Friday, OSHA announced that they have fined another meatpacking company for failing to protect their workers from COVID-19. As UCOMM reported, earlier in the week, OSHA had announced fines for Smithfield Foods after four people died after contracting COVID-19 at the plant.

This time, OSHA went after JBS Foods who had a massive outbreak at their Colorado facility that left eight workers dead, and over 200 people were infected. To penalize the company, OSHA issued a $15,615 fine. The company brought in $51 Billion in revenue last year. According to OSHA, the company violated a general duty clause that calls for a workplace to be free from recognized hazards that can cause serious harm. They also said the company failed to provide injury and illness logs promptly following a May inspection.

“Employers need to take appropriate actions to protect their workers from the coronavirus,” said Amanda Kupper, OSHA Denver Area director. “OSHA has meatpacking industry guidance and other resources to assist in worker protection.”

The small fines have angered many. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW)’s President Marc Perrone said in a statement:

“The failure of the federal government to protect American workers and our nation’s food supply has reached new lows. 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 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. 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.”

While OSHA claims to have issued the maximum penalty allowed by law, former OSHA officials disagree. In a tweet, Dr. David Michaels, who was the head of OSHA under President Barack Obama, said that OSHA went very easy on Smithfield and that they could have fined the company 10 times as much. He suggested to Mother Jones that OSHA could have counted each of the violations as individual issues and declared them willful. This would have allowed OSHA to issue a $134,940 per violation, or about $2.7 million in Smithfield’s case.

While it is easy to attack the inspectors at OSHA, the reality is that this isn’t entirely their fault. Even though unions and Democratic elected officials have been pushing for a national COVID safety standard for months, the Trump Administration has refused to issue one. This means that even if the inspectors see dangerous behavior, such as working closely together without masks or social distancing, there is little that the inspectors can do. Trump has tied these workers' hands and now working people are dying as a result.

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