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30 Apr 2020

Taylor Telford & Kimberly Kindy, The Washington Post

USA: Workers allege Tyson, JBS & Smithfield failed to provide protective equipment in meat processing & packing plants amid COVID-19

“As they rushed to maintain U.S. meat supply, big processors saw plants become Covid-19 hot spots, worker illnesses”, 25 April 2020

Three of the nation’s largest meat processors - [Tyson Foods, JBS USA and Smithfield Foods] - failed to provide protective gear amid [COVID-19] and…are [alleged to have] told [some employees] to continue working…even while sick. [Collectively]…, 3,300 workers [have fallen sick with coronavirus], kill[ing] at least 17. Workers at all the facilities said that personal protective equipment was not promptly distributed.

JBS, Smithfield and Tyson all strongly defended their efforts to protect their employees from the coronavirus. Smithfield and Tyson said they started taking preventive action in February. JBS said it took action in mid-March. All three companies said they have stepped up sanitation, have taken steps to ensure social distancing and are checking temperatures as workers report for their shifts.  

[E]ven as much of U.S. industry pulls back in the face of the pandemic, meat company officials have argued that they have a special responsibility to continue operations. The guidance released by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on March 9 said employers should offer surgical masks or respirators to workers who could be infected with the novel coronavirus, especially if they work within six feet of one another. But OSHA also said it would not enforce such regulations. “Workers are paying with their lives and their health because their industry decided not to implement basic safety precautions and OSHA decided to…tell workers ‘You’re on your own’”, Debbie Berkowitz, a former senior OSHA official who is an expert on meat processing plants. [T]he Department of Labor…said guidance specifically aimed at protecting workers in the meat processing and packing industries will be released in the coming days.

[Follow the links to access further details about specific allegations against Tyson Foods, JBS USA and Smithfield Foods, first-hand accounts from workers and company comments]