SMITHFIELD, VA. – Smithfield Foods Inc. said it plans to contest a citation and proposed fine imposed by California’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Last week, Cal/OSHA issued possible fines of $58,100 to Smithfield, who owns Farmer John processing plant in Los Angeles County. Subcontractor CitiStaff Solutions was also fined $46,695.
The agency has been investigating the facility since May. Cal/OSHA accused Smithfield of failing to provide face coverings for employees and not training them on social distancing and other measures.
According to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Local 770, which represents meatpacking workers at the plant, more than 315 workers out of the 1,800 at the Farmer John facility contracted COVID-19 since March, with three being hospitalized.
A Smithfield spokesperson defended the company’s position against the citations and said it has fully cooperated since the May investigation began and provided 4,000 documents to Cal/OSHA.
“The agency has taken the surprising position that every single person working at the plant who contracted COVID-19 caught the virus at work,” said Keira Lombardo, Smithfield’s chief administrative officer. “The agency’s position completely rejects the clear evidence established by health experts that community spread exists.”
Lombardo went onto state that Cal/OSHA allegations claim that Smithfield failed to report a coronavirus hospitalization in February. However, Lombardo said this “defies logic” because it was not until two weeks later that the first non-travel related case was confirmed in the United States.
When responding to the charges of insufficient PPE, Smithfield said this “related back to time periods when no meaningful guidance on COVID-19 mitigation measures existed.”
“Smithfield procured and provided masks, face shields and other personal protective equipment early and aggressively and, without question, during the time period covered by the Cal/OSHA citation,” the company said in its statement. “The only way Cal/OSHA has issued these citations is based on a misguided use of hindsight.”
The company said its invested more than $650 million in workplace measures since the start of the pandemic including, masks, face shields, reconfigured workstations, plexiglass barriers and robust social distancing mandates.
UFCW Local 770, which filed the May complaint with Cal/OSHA, said in its statement that workers at Farmer John have asked for more safety precautions for months.
“Nothing Smithfield, nor local Farmer John management, has done has been in the interest of workers,” said John Grant, president of UFCW Local 770.
In September, Smithfield said it planned to appeal a $13,493 penalty issued by OSHA for failing to protect employees from exposure to the coronavirus at its Sioux Falls, SD, plant.