Deadly coronavirus outbreaks are becoming increasingly common at meat processing plants nationwide. Many companies are accused of failing to provide masks, social distancing, or paid leave for sick employees.
What is the Problem?
As of January 2021, at least 269 meat-packing employees have died of COVID-19, at least 54,500 workers have tested positive for the virus, and more than 550 meathpacking plants have had confirmed outbreaks. according to data collected by the nonprofit Food and Environment Reporting Network.
UPDATE: COVID Death Lawsuit Filed Against Original Philly Cheesesteak Meatpacking Plant and Tyson Foods
In January 2021, the widow of a meatpacking supervisor who died of COVID-19 in April 2020 filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Original Philly Cheesesteak and the plant’s owner, Tyson Foods. The victim, 61 year-old Brian Baker, was ordered to scan the temperatures of workers as they arrived on April 2. The next day, the plant shut down due to an outbreak of COVID-19 among employees. Baker was diagnosed with the virus on April 7 and died of respiratory failure on April 23. His widow’s lawsuit claims that Tyson “inexplicably failed to take proper safety precautions to protect workers.”
JBS Fined for Failing to Protect Workers from Coronavirus
In October 2020, a JBS Packerland facility in Green Bay, Wisconsin was fined nearly $14,000 after OSHA found that JBS failed to protect workers from coronavirus, which resulted in a major outbreak. At least 348 cases of COVID-19 were linked to JBS Packerland.
Tyson Hit With Another COVID-19 Death Lawsuit
In October 2020, Tyson Foods was hit with another wrongful death lawsuit involving a meatpacker who died of COVID-19 in April. He began to feel symptoms on April 2, four days before the plant shut down. He died on April 14, at the age of 51 years old.
He was a victim of a massive coronavirus outbreak at the plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa, where at least 522 Tyson workers were infected, according to Iowa health officials.
The wrongful death lawsuit (PDF) was filed by the children of Pedro Cano. According to lawyers, he worked “elbow-to-elbow” with other employees, but was not given a mask or gloves, or adequate warnings about COVID-19 from his employers.
Central Valley Meat Hit With COVID-19 Lawsuit After Outbreak
In July 2020, workers filed a class action lawsuit against Central Valley Meat in Hanford, California, after at least 200 people were infected with COVID-19 or exposed to the virus. The lawsuit accuses Central Valley Meat of failing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
JBS Hit With COVID-19 Death Lawsuit
The family of a JBS beef processing worker who died of respiratory failure caused by COVID-19 has file a wrongful death lawsuit. He died 1 day after JBS finally began providing workers with masks and protective equipment. Click here to read more.
Tyson Hit With COVID-19 Death Lawsuit
In May 2020, the family of a meat-cutter who died of COVID-19 filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Tyson Foods. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Pwar G., a woman who worked at the Tyson plant in Amarillo, Texas.
Pwar also suffered a serious knee injury on the job, but continued working until her breathing difficulties, knee pain, and severe swelling made it impossible to continue. Tragically, after weeks of hospitalization, the combination of COVID-19 and her knee injury proved to be fatal.
The lawsuit (PDF) was filed on May 15, 2020 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas (Amarillo Division) — Case No. 2:20-cv-00125-Z.
COVID-19 Death Lawsuit Filed Against Texas Sausage Plant
The wife of a 36 year-old meat plant worker who died of coronavirus (COVID-19) filed a wrongful death lawsuit against his employer, Quality Sausage Co. in Dallas, Texas.
Trump Orders Meat Processing Plants to Stay Open
After 22 meat plants shut down in March and April 2020, President Donald Trump signed an executive order under the Defense Production Act to force meat processing facilities to stay open during the coronavirus pandemic, declaring them “critical infrastructure.” The order also gives companies protection from legal liability if workers get sick.
Meat Workers File 1st Lawsuits: “If You Die, They’ll Just Replace You Tomorrow”
The first coronavirus lawsuits against meat plants have been filed by workers who are unhappy with hazardous conditions. The workers say they are shoulder-to-shoulder, unable to wash their hands for hours, and forbidden from covering a sneeze or cough because they might miss a piece of meat coming down the line.
According to one man who tested positive for coronavirus: “Those people don’t care about us,” John said. “If you die, they’ll just replace you tomorrow”
What is the Problem?
Meat packing plants are a common “hotspot” for coronavirus outbreaks. The problem is that meat processing workers stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the line. They also congregate in crowded locker rooms, cafeterias, break rooms, and bathrooms.
Smithfield Pork Plant Shuts Down After Nearly 900 Infected With COVID-19
One of the largest COVID-19 hotspots in the U.S. is the Smithfield Foods pork slaughterhouse and processing facility in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, with with nearly 900 confirmed cases and at least 2 deaths. Before the plant shut down, it accounted for 4-5% of total hog processing in the U.S.
Meat Packing Plants Closed Due to Coronavirus Outbreaks
A growing number of meat packing plants have shut down temporarily after coronavirus outbreaks, including:
- Tyson Foods (pork processing) — Columbus Junction, Iowa
- Tyson Foods (pork processing) — Waterloo, Iowa
- Tyson Foods (poultry) — Camilla, Georgia
- National Beef Packing Co. (beef processing) — Tama, Iowa
- JBS USA (beef processing) — Greeley, Colorado
- JBS USA (beef processing) — Souderton, Pennsylvania
- JBS USA (pork processing) — Worthington, Minnesota
- Smithfield Food (pork processing) — Sioux Falls, South Dakota
- Smithfield Foods (dry sausage and bacon) — Cudahy, Wisconsin
- Smithfield Foods (smoked and spiral-cut hams) — Martin City, Missouri
- Cargill Inc. (pork and beef processing) — Hazleton, Pennsylvania
- Hormel (pork products) — Rochelle, Illinois
- And more
Deaths Reported At Growing Number of Meat Processing Plants
Deaths have been reported at Tyson Foods’ pork plant in Iowa, a Cargill meat processing plant in Colorado, a JBS meatpacking facility in Greeley, and a growing number of other meat processing facilities nationwide.
Other COVID-19 Outbreaks in Meat Packing Plants
On April 20, there was an outbreak of COVID-19 cases among workers at the JBS Packerland meat processing plant in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The beef production plant remains operating as an “essential business,” according to health officials.
On April 21, officials confirmed that 16 employees of the Prestage Foods of Iowa pork processing plant in Eagle Grove, Iowa, had tested positive for COVID-19. All of the cases were asymptomatic and the plant remained operational.
When Is a Shut-Down Necessary?
Meat processing plant shut-downs may be necessary in a variety of cases:
- Too many workers fall ill to keep the plant running safely.
- Preventing uncontrolled outbreaks by quarantining employees.
- Employees are unwilling to return to work, especially if coworkers are dying or they lack protective gear.
- Unions pressure companies to provide social distancing, masks, and financial compensation for employees who fall ill
As Coronavirus Outbreak Intensifies, Slaughterhouse Union Files Lawsuit Against Dangerous USDA Rule
As the coronavirus outbreak sweeps through the meat industry, a federal lawsuit has been filed to stop the USDA from eliminating line speed limits in pork slaughterhouses, which union officials say “will endanger the health and safety of tens of thousands of workers” and threaten food safety for the public.