US Congress Panel Investigating Worker Safety at Meatpacking Firms

By Andy Sullivan

February 02, 2021

(Reuters) - A U.S. congressional panel is investigating three large meatpacking companies for possible worker-safety violations following reports that hundreds of industry workers have died of COVID-19, the subcommittee said on Monday.

The House of Representatives Coronavirus subcommittee asked JBS USA, Tyson Foods Inc and Smithfield Foods Inc to provide records of inspections, complaints and other internal documents.

The panel also asked the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to provide records of its efforts to enforce worker safety rules.

Meatpacking plants emerged as early hubs of coronavirus infection last spring, forcing many plants to close temporarily and pushing up meat prices. Companies erected physical barriers and took other steps to protect workers, but they were not able to eliminate the risk of infection.

Surrounding communities also were affected. Meatpacking plants were associated with at least 236,000 coronavirus cases and up to 5,200 deaths as of July, according to the National Academy of Sciences.

Labor unions and other workers have accused the companies of taking inadequate steps to protect workers.

Smithfield and JBS said they have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on worker safety, bonuses and other measures. Tyson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.