House Democrats investigating coronavirus outbreaks at Tyson Foods, other meatpacking companies

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WASHINGTON (KNWA/KFTA) — Democrats on a U.S. House of Representatives select subcommittee overseeing the Trump administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic are launching an investigation into coronavirus outbreaks at meatpacking plants across the country, according to a release from the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis on Monday.

Rep. James E. Cyburn, chairman of the committee, sent letters to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Tyson FoodsSmithfield Foods and JBS USA, launching the investigation into coronavirus outbreaks that have resulted in the deaths of more than 250 employees nationwide.

“Public reports indicate that under the Trump Administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) failed to adequately carry out its responsibility for enforcing worker safety laws at meatpacking plants across the country, resulting in preventable infections and deaths,” Rep. Clyburn wrote to OSHA.  “It is imperative that the previous Administration’s shortcomings are swiftly identified and rectified to save lives in the months before coronavirus vaccinations are available for all Americans.”

According to the press release, under the administration of President Donald Trump, OSHA issued only eight citations and less than $80,000 in total penalties for coronavirus-related violations at meatpacking companies, which the panel called a “paltry amount that has failed to curb dangerous conditions faced by many workers.”

In a letter to Tyson Foods CEO Dean Banks, Clyburn said:

According to media reports, more workers at Tyson have been infected with and killed by the coronavirus than at any other meatpacking company, with 12,413 coronavirus cases and 39 deaths reported. Six Tyson plants located in Iowa, Nebraska, Indiana and North Carolina had outbreaks of over 500 cases each. In the past seven months, Tyson workers have also suffered substantial outbreaks at facilities in Noel, Missouri, Van Buren, Arkansas, and Storm Lake, Iowa.

Tyson, which reported $2.15 billion in profits and “strong returns for shareholders” in Fiscal Year 2020, does not appear to have taken basic precautions to prevent these outbreaks.

Rep. James Clyburn

READ: Clyburn’s full letter to Tyson Foods, Inc. CEO Dean Banks

The Select Subcommittee is requesting documents from OSHA, Tyson Foods, JBS USA, and Smithfield Foods related to COVID-19 infections and deaths at meatpacking plants and the enforcement of worker protections by the Trump Administration. 

Tyson Foods, Inc. issued the following response to KNWA/FOX24 following news of Monday’s investigation:

Our top priority will always be the health and safety of our people, and we look forward to working with the congressional committee to share what we’ve done and continue to do to protect our team members from the coronavirus. We’ve invested more than half a billion dollars during the pandemic to transform our U.S. facilities with protective measures, from walk-through TEMPERATURE SCANNERS and workstation dividers to SOCIAL DISTANCE MONITORS and additional team member pay and benefits. In addition, we’ve added a Chief Medical Officer to help us safeguard and improve the health of our workforce. We’re also using random testing as a tool to find the virus, testing thousands of workers a week, both symptomatic and asymptomatic. This strategy has enabled us to move from defense to offense in our efforts to fight the virus.

Tyson Foods, Inc.

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