House Subcommittee on Coronavirus Begins Investigation Into Meatpacking Companies

The House of Representatives Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis announced on Monday that it is launching an investigation into COVID-19 pandemic-related deaths and infections at meatpacking plants. The committee reportedly sent letters to the Occupational safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and to three of the largest meatpacking companies, Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods, and JBS USA. 

Monday’s press release reported that outbreaks of COVID-19 at meatpacking plants have resulted in the deaths of more than 250 employees. According to reports cited by the committee, almost 54,000 workers have tested positive for COVID-19 at 569 meatpacking plants. These deaths and outbreaks have led to multiple lawsuits against the companies, including one against Tyson and another against JBS

“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,” Chairman of the committee Rep. James E. Clyburn (D- S.C.) 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.”

Eight citations were issued by OSHA during the Trump Administration, and almost $80,000 in penalties were issued for COVID-19-related violations. Rep. Clyburn argued that this was not sufficient and that OSHA did not do its duty to protect meatpacking workers. 

In the letters to JBS, Tyson, and Smithfeild, Clyburn said “public reports indicate that meatpacking companies … have refused to take basic precautions to protect their workers, many of whom earn extremely low wages and lack adequate paid leave, and have shown a callous disregard for workers’ health. These actions appear to have resulted in thousands of meatpacking workers getting infected with the virus and hundreds dying. Outbreaks at meatpacking plants have also spread to surrounding communities, killing many more Americans.”

The House Subcommittee asked OSHA and each of the companies to provide documents related to their worker protections, COVID-19 infections, and COVID-19 related deaths.