The family of Saul Sanchez, the first JBS Foods employee to die of Covid-19, is voicing outrage in response to the Trump Labor Department’s decision to fine the ultra-profitable meat company just $15,615 for failing to adequately protect its workers from the coronavirus.
“It’s a huge slap in the face. They bring in over $50 billion a year, and they get slapped with $15,000? That’s what enables these companies to not care for their employees,” Beatriz Rangel, Sanchez’s daughter, told a Denver CBS affiliate Sunday after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced the penalty against JBS Foods in Greeley, Colorado, where eight of the company’s meatpacking workers have died of Covid-19.
“At first I was excited to see that they were actually doing something about it,” said Rangel. “Then, when I saw the dollar amount I thought, ‘How sad.’ It’s not fair. It’s not right.”
OSHA—which has been accused of abandoning its duty to protect workers during the pandemic—quietly announced the penalty against JBS Foods Friday night, a day after the agency fined another meat processing giant, Smithfield Foods, just $13,494 for “failing to protect employees from exposure to the coronavirus.” More than 1,294 Smithfield workers in Sioux Falls, South Dakota have tested positive for Covid-19 and four have died.
Kim Cordova, president of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 7, which represents JBS workers in Greeley, called the meager fine “devastating” and said OSHA officials “failed to do their job.”
“This is going to incentivize employers to continue to put workers lives and safety at risk,” said Cordova.
Eight workers from JBS’ meatpacking plant in Greeley CO have died from coronavirus.
OSHA just fined that plant for failing to protect workers during the outbreak.
The fines total $15,615.
JBS’ revenue last year was $51 billion.
— Dave Jamieson (@jamieson) September 12, 2020
According to the Food Environmental Reporting Network, more than 42,500 meatpacking workers have been infected by the coronavirus and at least 203 have died in the U.S. since March.
As Mother Jones reported in May, JBS dragged its feet in implementing basic protections against the spread of Covid-19 at its Greeley plant even as workers began testing positive for the virus and dying.
“It’s not just JBS,” Mother Jones noted. “In the course of reporting this story, we spoke to workers at Tyson Foods and Smithfield, as well as advocates representing workers at Hormel, Cargill, and dozens of regional packinghouses, who all reported similar conditions at other plants.”
Mark Lauritsen, vice president of food processing, packing, and manufacturing with the UFCW, told the Washington Post Sunday that OSHA is only now moving to penalize meatpacking plants—which President Donald Trump kept open with an April executive order—in an effort to “look like they are doing their job so they can cover themselves politically” ahead of the November presidential election.
“They checked out and turned a blind eye to this for months. The Trump administration made these decisions to not step in and help workers,” said Lauritsen. “People in this country remember the horror of what happened to these workers.”
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