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Meatpacking Fined $29K for Corona Failure. Yay Deregulation!

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Yes, my friends, that's 29K not 29M.

More than 200 workers died. More than 40,000 have been infected. The fine is the total demanded of Smithfield Foods plant in South Dakota and a JBS plant in Colorado. Washington Post 

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Meat plant workers, union leaders and worker safety groups are also outraged that the two plants, with some of the most severe outbreaks in the nation, were only cited for a total of three safety violations and that hundreds of other meat plants have faced no fines. The companies criticized federal regulators for taking so long to give them guidance on how to keep workers safe.

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Federal regulators knew about serious safety problems in dozens of the nation’s meat plants that became deadly coronavirus hot spots this spring but took six months to take action, recently citing two plants and finally requiring changes to protect workers.

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The companies, worker safety groups and meat plant workers criticized OSHA for how long it took the agency to complete investigations of the plants.

“Where were they when people were getting sick and were hospitalized? When people were dying?” said Debbie Berkowitz, a worker-safety expert with the nonprofit National Employment Law Project. “Just think about how many lives could have been saved and how many people may not have gotten sick.”

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Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), said he believes the sudden issuance of citations, months after the plants were spiking with coronavirus cases, is motivated by the upcoming presidential election.

“They checked out and turned a blind eye to this for months. The Trump administration made these decisions to not step in and help workers,” Perrone said. “Now they are trying to look like they are doing their job so they can cover themselves politically. People in this country remember the horror of what happened to these workers.” The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Great days, my friends! We live the joys of the free, unfettered market where we can rely on corporations and the rich to take into consideration the good of their workers and customers! You see, if a corporation does something wicked, they will suffer bad publicity and people will buy neither their products nor their stocks. Chastened, the corporation will act to protect the people's interest.

Now, children, if you burden corporations with regulations and accountability under penalty of fines and imprisonment, you cripple their ability to prosper for the good of one and all. I have many examples of bad or silly regulations. See how bad and silly they and the government are?

What's that? What was corporate largesse and virtue like before unions, Upton Sinclair, and government regulation? Oh, that was long ago. Unions and regulations are no longer needed. Corporations will act for the good of the people and will even help elect politicians to concretize their freedom from interference.

This is what we get when common people are deceived into believing that the things in place to at least give them a chance against the powerful are actually their enemies to be despised.

Go ask the MAGA crowd racing for a front row seat at a Trump Covid Rally what they think of unions, government regulation, lawyers, newspapers, or any non-profit working for the environment. These people of the common class with voices unblocked by protective masks will hiss, roll their eyes, and shout obscenities.

The hate engine has exacerbated Idiot World where Irony is king of the irony-deaf. Forty percent of the American electorate have been roused to an argument-proof rage against persons and things who may actually benefit them

It's been a hell of thing to watch since Reagan became president. I reread 1984 in 1984 and finally got it. I always doubted that such an existence could be imposed on a free people. With the Reagan presidency, I realized that the people would call for it. Demand it. Celebrate it.

I would not have predicted we'd end up with a despicable failed fat cat in the White House whose blathering imbecility and constant criminality would be lapped up such as it is. I expected more from our prospective overlords. 

Back to the meat packing workers. Will there be a general outrage that will spread among workers? I never predict anything because it's all so crazy nowadays.

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I don't disagree with the gist of your post.

But, the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of OSHA has been a problem virtually since its inception in 1970.  The maximum fine OSHA can assess for any single violation is $13,494.  And that means one transactional violation, not per worker, or per day.

Once a violation is cited and either not abated or repeated, that 13.5 can become a daily fine, if not abated, or 10x that if willful or repeated.  Generally speaking, willful and repeated are nearly synonymous and that tends to mean that there is a prior OSHA citation and repetition of the cited behavior thereafter.

https://www.osha.gov/penalties/

Those penalties have been roughly the same since 1990, adjusted for inflation and COL occasionally, 

Is this a product of business lobbying?  Bet your fur it is.  But it is not a new thing.

Turns out @tantric superman actually worked for DOL/OSHA for a while and can confirm/deny/elaborate.

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36 minutes ago, Degenerate Gardner said:

It's a jungle out there.

ISWYDT

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Might be a bit harsh to say meatpackers are SO bad. Workers in every essential business sector died. Totally not excusing JBS and the others, but levity is needed here. Since the initial onslaught, have these companies taken the needed steps to reduce the risk? How quickly did they take the necessary steps?

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I only know the article. The companys' lame line seems to be that they weren't inspected soon enough. Guidelines were present and the dangers of the plants were news.

OSHA appears six months later to levy absurd fines on only a few companies for only a few incidents within each one.

Neither the companies nor the government seem to have been doing right by the workers, and many have been infected and died.

We have a president who takes pride in crippling regulation and appointing persons hostile the missions of the agencies they run.

I'd say the rapine policies of these companies are allowable because of impunity. I think this is the result of a decades long campaign to destroy anything in the way of the top .001% gobbling up even more of the pie.

I don't argue, nor do I need to argue that government regulation is perfectly run or perfectly fair. I argue that government oversight is one of the few avenues for making things better. 

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That’s crazy.  Jerry Falwell Jr.  paid more than 29k just to watch some meatpacking.

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1 hour ago, Parliament said:

Might be a bit harsh to say meatpackers are SO bad. Workers in every essential business sector died. Totally not excusing JBS and the others, but levity is needed here. Since the initial onslaught, have these companies taken the needed steps to reduce the risk? How quickly did they take the necessary steps?

The Smithfield notice of violation and penalty was dated last week (was posted on another thread).  They have until the end of the month to comply, which I imagine has already happened.

In mild defense of OSHA, they don't go around with a roving mandate of policing subjectively bad corporate behavior.  They have to put out rules for corporations to follow and then whack em when they don't.  It looks like, but is hard to tell,  OSHA put out rules in May, by which time I think the meatpacking plants were in full swing.  So it seems relatively likely that many of the Covid cases were probably already spread before OSHA even had rules in place.

 

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1 hour ago, RomaVicta said:

I only know the article. The companys' lame line seems to be that they weren't inspected soon enough. Guidelines were present and the dangers of the plants were news.

OSHA appears six months later to levy absurd fines on only a few companies for only a few incidents within each one.

Neither the companies nor the government seem to have been doing right by the workers, and many have been infected and died.

We have a president who takes pride in crippling regulation and appointing persons hostile the missions of the agencies they run.

I'd say the rapine policies of these companies are allowable because of impunity. I think this is the result of a decades long campaign to destroy anything in the way of the top .001% gobbling up even more of the pie.

I don't argue, nor do I need to argue that government regulation is perfectly run or perfectly fair. I argue that government oversight is one of the few avenues for making things better. 

What happens when it comes to this is that for the 99%: life is tolerable for some, painful for others, and horrific for the remainder. A large part of our populace seem rather fine with that as they cannot simply imagine being at the bottom of the pile. We know this, it's certainly been talked about enough on here, but the last four years have laid bare the oligarchy and the plans to make it a permanent cruel feature of a dead Republic. Look at the protests in Belarus. They are trying to rectify the crooked election that just occurred. Have you seen the news about how that is going? Putin is helping Lukashenko just like he's going to help Trump and the GOP.

But people have bought into the idea that labor deserves to be spit upon. That all unions are bad. That regulations are for suckers or traitors or are too onerous to allow capitalism to thrive. I would say it seems to be doing fine since it always finds a way to get labor as cheap as possible. Countries that have a healthy mix of social programs, regs, and capitalism seem to do so much better for the quality of life for the majority of their populations. Why is that?

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1 hour ago, Mrs Whiggins said:

Countries that have a healthy mix of social programs, regs, and capitalism seem to do so much better for the quality of life for the majority of their populations. Why is that?

They can have nice things because they haven't brainwashed themselves with a good versus evil framework of left versus right. They can discuss relative values of proposals from either side without starting to twitch and reaching for a gun to save their delusions of their own greatness.

I have thought for a long time that the US went astray when we started being world promoters of capitalism versus communism instead of democracy versus tyranny. It's not hard to see why we did that. Read a little history, and you see that our capitalists usually wanted something from the poor little countries leaning towards socialism. We were there for the resources not to liberate or elevate anyone. (I refer to the US government. Religious and other philanthropic Americans have done many good things.)

How do you explain to the rubes back home why you're setting up puppet dictators? You tell them it's all in the cause of beating the dirty Reds with free market capitalism. Got keep the commies out. 

This identification as capitalists instead of freedom promoters seeped back home. Encouraged by the right, people started seeing themselves as taxpayers instead of citizens. That leads to caring only about your personal bottom line and less about your fellow citizens. Then you cultivate the notion that government is alway inept and wrong, and you get where we are today.

That's what I feel like I've watched over the last handful of decades. The citizen vs taxpayer observation was made by someone else whose name I've shamefully lost over the years.

The slightly socialist countries do better because they'll discuss ideas we won't tolerate because we're stupid, poorly led, and selfish.

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1 hour ago, TwiceHorn said:

The Smithfield notice of violation and penalty was dated last week (was posted on another thread).  They have until the end of the month to comply, which I imagine has already happened.

In mild defense of OSHA, they don't go around with a roving mandate of policing subjectively bad corporate behavior.  They have to put out rules for corporations to follow and then whack em when they don't.  It looks like, but is hard to tell,  OSHA put out rules in May, by which time I think the meatpacking plants were in full swing.  So it seems relatively likely that many of the Covid cases were probably already spread before OSHA even had rules in place.

 

Thanks for the information, TwiceHorn. By focusing on OSHA, are we ignoring just general negligence on the part of management to take precautions to ensure a safe workplace?

It seems like a sorry defense to say that we weren't required to pay attention to the infection, sickness, and death rate until OSHA acted on it.

Further, how much was regulatory action restrained by the vile man in the White House?

On the Trump thread, someone quoted a journalist admitting that the way they operate requires a level of good faith and honesty from those they cover. He said they were lost and ineffective when all of that goes out the window. I wonder if the Bad Actor in Chief encourages bad acts and actors throughout society. Lord knows they've been poised and ready.

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I like the taxpayer vs. citizen comment. Not something I'd really considered before. I'll have to ponder that one awhile. I've certainly been guilty of taking on the taxpayer mantra.

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14 minutes ago, RomaVicta said:

Thanks for the information, TwiceHorn. By focusing on OSHA, are we ignoring just general negligence on the part of management to take precautions to ensure a safe workplace?

It seems like a sorry defense to say that we weren't required to pay attention to the infection, sickness, and death rate until OSHA acted on it.

Further, how much was regulatory action restrained by the vile man in the White House?

On the Trump thread, someone quoted a journalist admitting that the way they operate requires a level of good faith and honesty from those they cover. He said they were lost and ineffective when all of that goes out the window. I wonder if the Bad Actor in Chief encourages bad acts and actors throughout society. Lord knows they've been poised and ready.

Not at all.  I was responding to someone who asked about industries in general and timing of this offense.

That sounds about right from what I know of OSHA.  Over time, they have been actually fairly effective at increasing worker safety, in inherently dangerous workplaces.  I'm not sure that they are an agency one could expect to react quickly and effectively in response to a novel or emergent situation like Coronavirus.  And that is administration-independent.

But, it's just another example of how stupid it was to reopen businesses without having safeguards and regulations to enforce them, in place, which of course you can lay directly at the feet of Trump.

 

Edited by TwiceHorn

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make me smart did a pod on OSHA in the pandemic back in april when it was pretty clear how bad meatpacking plants were:

https://www.marketplace.org/shows/make-me-smart-with-kai-and-molly/trumps-osha-could-mandate-essential-worker-protections-but-it-hasnt-why-not/

marketplace is worth chipping a few bucks a month to, imho.  it's not an NPR product so if you're an NPR donor it isn't necessarily getting to marketplace

Edited by elfenix

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I’d give someone $20 right now for a box of Jimmy Dean chicken biscuits.  HEB and Kroger haven’t had them in two months.

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I spent a couple summers in college working in the meat packing plant in my home town. It paid 2 times more than minimum wage at the time and usually had at least 8 hours of overtime most weeks.  In Kansas, the meat packing towns are usually much more diverse than the rest of the state at the time (90% white) due to all the immigrants that would go work there as it paid well for unskilled labor. There were a lot of SE Asians, mostly Thai and Vietnamese, Hispanics, both long time citizens and new immigrants - legal or otherwise, a few blacks, and a bunch of poor whites or white college kids (there was a small university in town) like me making some summer/part-time cash. They always struggled to have enough workers for the 2 shifts they ran. So much so that when I returned to college in Lawrence they told me to keep the equipment and I could go back whenever I wanted and just walk into work. No need to call in and ask if they needed me. Just show up. A few years later they were able to get special visas to bring people in from Mexico because not enough Americans wanted to work there. In mid 2000s a lot of Somalis were settled in these meat packing towns in KS because the government hoped they would go to work in these plants. Pretty much whenever the government has an influx of immigrants they like to settle them in these towns hoping they will go work in the meat packing plants. 

They had 2 sides at this plant, a slaughter side for killing the cattle and a processing side that cut the slabs into the separate cuts. I worked on the processing side in packaging (I pulled strings so I would not have to be cutter). All new workers started in processing as a cutter on the floor. Being a cutter is really hard work. The temperature in there is just above freezing. They are working with knives so there are constantly little nicks and cuts or bigger accidents requiring hospital visits (my uncle worked there for 6 months and got a nasty gash on his lower leg from a dropped knife). They basically are outfitted in chain mail from shoulder to hands and over their torsos to their knees, so that is a lot of weight to carry around all day. Cutters specialized in one cut so the chain could move faster so their bodies would often become overdeveloped on one side causing health issues. The work is extremely repetitive so carpal tunnel was almost certain to affect anyone that spent enough time doing cutting work. The environment can be wet from washing the blood and waste off the chain/floor.  After 6 months, you could bid on different jobs including the kill side, packaging, or maintenance. Who got the job was based on seniority, so usually you had to be a cutter for years before you could get off the processing floor.  The work is mindless as hell (My coworkers and I in packaging used to ask each other trivia questions about music, sports, etc. just to keep our minds busy). Lots of people quit within a couple weeks. One of the guys I went through training with quit the first day. Puked on the floor and walked out. I think 40-50% quit before the first month was over.  The best workers were the immigrants. They needed a job and had no support system to fall back on without one. Those guys and gals almost always stuck with it. Most of the quitters were the college and rural whites. The local townies usually stuck it out because their parents and extended family often worked there so they knew what they were getting into.

I really liked almost everyone I worked with there. They were mostly good people that knew they had few options in life and were just doing the best they could with the hand they were dealt. Last I knew there were well over 100 Covid cases at that plant and they only have like 40% of the employees that they had when I was there due to shutting down parts of the plant.  Too bad these companies put profit over the lives of the workers. But then that is sadly the case with American corporations too often now days. 

Some stories from that place:

Spoiler

My high school chemistry teacher would take his students on a tour of the plant each year to impress on them the importance of education beyond high school. On one of these tours, while they were on the kill side, they were in the area where they split the cattle skulls open. One of the dudes working there looks over, smiles, and sticks out his tongue. On his tongue is a cow eyeball. One of the female students passed out. Heard they fired the poor guy.

There were 3 deaths at the plant last I knew:

1) The first happened the first month they opened. When the cattle are funneled in to the kill side, they are killed with a captive bolt stunner, like the one Chigurh used in No Country for Old Men. One of the cows bolted through the chute. The guy with the the bolt stunner tossed it to a guy farther down the chute. The guy missed catching it and had the bad luck to get hit square in the forehead. Fires off. Dude is dead on the floor.

2) Second one happened in the shipping area. Guy was driving a forklift and his sight was blocked, so he stuck his head out of the cage to get a better look just as the forklift was moving past a wall. He got decapitated.

3) Third was on maintenance shift. One of the electricians did not tag out the machine he was working on and got electrocuted.

One of the guys I worked with in packaging, used to work as a cutter on the floor. He told me he used to wake up in the morning and his hands would be clinched into fists. He would have to run warm water over them until he could open them. Eventually, this did not work and he had to have surgery on his hands. That is what got him moved off the cutting floor to packaging.

Even at NAIA schools there were no show jobs. When I was there, the QB of the local college team would clock in, go home, watch a movie, take a nap, then come back later in the day and clock back out. 

Those meat packing plants towns always smell so bad because once the shifts are done they wash down everything and the water runs off into some lagoons nearby. The smell is blood, fats, and other waste in those lagoons. If they are a kill plant, then the cattle pens also add to the aroma; however, most of it is those lagoons.

 

Edited by Jhawkmvp

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Thank God states are passing COVID immunity bills to protect these meat packing plants. I bet they can barely afford to pay the OSHA fines. 

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11 hours ago, TwiceHorn said:

Turns out @tantric superman actually worked for DOL/OSHA for a while and can confirm/deny/elaborate.

My sense on now being on the defense side of things is that the best method of enforcement is having a government enforcement group, but empowering savage plaintiff's attorneys to go after companies on behalf of employees under private attorney general style regulations that contain solid attorneys fees provisions.  I would prefer for our enforcement agencies to be persons who are experts at safety but who aren''t just trying to achieve a high quota of penalties. 

If you had a separate section of OSHA that allowed private attorneys to seek damages under OSHA per employee injuries and or exposure and obtain attorneys fees, that might be more effective from a safety standpoint.  

That being said, the personal injury attorneys here may already be able to capitalize on OSHA violations.    

Basically, when federal Wage and Hour investigators come after a  company, they are generally rational and reasonable.  Plaintiff's attorneys trying to gin up a class action -- they are all assholes.  And thus more effective in making companies change their ways.

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18 minutes ago, tantric superman said:

My sense on now being on the defense side of things is that the best method of enforcement is having a government enforcement group, but empowering savage plaintiff's attorneys to go after companies on behalf of employees under private attorney general style regulations that contain solid attorneys fees provisions.  I would prefer for our enforcement agencies to be persons who are experts at safety but who aren''t just trying to achieve a high quota of penalties. 

If you had a separate section of OSHA that allowed private attorneys to seek damages under OSHA per employee injuries and or exposure and obtain attorneys fees, that might be more effective from a safety standpoint.  

That being said, the personal injury attorneys here may already be able to capitalize on OSHA violations.    

Basically, when federal Wage and Hour investigators come after a  company, they are generally rational and reasonable.  Plaintiff's attorneys trying to gin up a class action -- they are all assholes.  And thus more effective in making companies change their ways.

I would much rather have the regs stringently enforced as opposed to civil suits, since you need something terrible to fucking happen before you can have a civil suit, so it seems to me prevention is the preferable option. And as long as I am imagining things that will never happen, I would also like a rocketship filled with gold and hookers. 

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2 minutes ago, Hank Scorpio said:

I would much rather have the regs stringently enforced as opposed to civil suits, since you need something terrible to fucking happen before you can have a civil suit, so it seems to me prevention is the preferable option. And as long as I am imagining things that will never happen, I would also like a rocketship filled with gold and hookers. 

I think both is good.  OSHA doing routine inspections and providing guidance, and private attorneys coming in for blood when its warranted. 

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