Derision, Disbelief After Iowa Meatpacking Plant Where Hundreds Caught Coronavirus Fined Just $957

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Jerri-Lynn here. Alas, I am sorry to say, this minor fine is probably a harbinger of things to come. Companies will get off very lightly for their sins and violations, workplace or otherwise, that cause clearly known and foreseeable coronavirus spread.

We just don’t know how to apply the principle of accountability and more.

If we’re only going to issue such derisory fines, why bother?

And longstanding readers know, the erosion of the rule of law is not a new Trump-driven phenomenon, but was well in place in the Eric Holder Justice Department and expressed in the previous administration’s approach to the Great Financial Crisis (see The Obamamometer’s Toxic Legacy: The Rule of Lawlessness). At least the George W. Bush Justice Department took some corporate scalps when the dot-com bubble collapsed: Enron, Adelphia, WorldCom.

But by now, turning a blind eye to transgressions is well-settled, bipartisan policy.

By Brett Wilkins, staff writer at CommonDreams. Originally published at CommonDreams

Iowa regulators on Thursday levied their first coronavirus-related fine against a meatpacking plant—a $957 citation for a minor record-keeping violation by a subsidiary of one of the nation’s biggest beef processing companies.

The Associated Press reports the Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued the citation to the Iowa Premium Beef Plant in Tama, where 338 of the facility’s 850 employees tested positive for Covid-19 during an April outbreak that produced one of the state’s first “hot spots.” That’s 80 more workers than the state previously acknowledged, according to inspection records.

Iowa OSHA announced on June 1 that it would investigate the Tama plant and four other meat processing facilities in the state where thousands of workers had tested positive for coronavirus. Records reviewed by the AP showed that none of the other plants were fined, despite at least nine Covid-19 deaths among them.

The other facilities that were investigated by the agency are Tyson Foods plants in Waterloo, Columbus Junction, and Perry, and the JBS plant in Marshalltown.

Iowa OSHA cited two “other-than-serious” violations committed by the Tama plant: failure to keep a required log of workplace-related injuries and illnesses, and failure to provide the document within four hours after inspectors requested it.

The fine was originally meant to be twice as high. However, Iowa OSHA Administrator Russell Perry approved a settlement with the company cutting the amount in half. Iowa Premium Beef—which last year was purchased by National Beef, the nation’s fourth-largest beef processor—also agreed to correct the violations.

Observers reacted to the fine with disbelief and derision:

The first Iowa fine comes less than two weeks after the U.S. Labor Department finedJBS Foods, the U.S. subsidiary of Brazilian giant JBS SA—which, with over $50 billion in annual sales, is the world’s largest meat processing company—a paltry $15,615 for failing to adequately protect workers against coronavirus.

Beatriz Rangel, daughter of Saul Sanchez—the first JBS Foods employee to die of Covid-19—called the small fine “a slap in the face.”

News of the Tama fine also follows the revelation earlier this month that the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the meatpacking industry collaborated to downplay and disregard risks to worker health during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue—an agribusiness tycoon and former Georgia governor with a long history of corruption—has been criticized for pushing meat processing facilities to remain open or quickly reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. The meatpacking industry in Iowa has been described as “too big too fail,” wielding tremendous political power in the heavily agricultural Midwestern state.

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16 comments

  1. Ignacio

    That was a corporate friendly pinch in the cheeks. Dooon’t dooo it agaaaain, my friend, said with gorgeousness Mr. Perry with a wink.

    Reply
    1. Ignacio

      The message is: do as you need, corps are not required to engage in spread control, focus on business as usual. I don’t know of other restrictions and fines that Iowa might apply to regular citizens and if there is some or a lot of moral hazard plus insult to the populace.

      Reply
  2. Rod

    I would guess that the proposed Indemnity attached to Cares II is just a little more Insurance in case PR fallout from this becomes troublesome.
    However, *!New OSHA!* has sought to become less cumbersome and punitive in their actions against their new Partners with innovative approaches to Partnership(for worker safety, of course).

    https://www.osha.gov/vpp/all-about-vpp
    a real water tight colander right there

    VPP and STAR Partner Programs have a nifty clause that discourages punishment–because– who at the OSHA(Fed and State) wants to have to Fine a Business that OSHA itself has been Advising and Mentoring??

    Reply
  3. Mark Gisleson

    After about to retire US Ambassador to China Terry Branstad became Governor of Iowa, he changed the rules so IBP [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBP,_Inc.] could operate packing plants in Iowa (ironically “Iowa Beef Packers” was started in Iowa, but from 1967-1983 mostly operated out of the Dakotas (and I think Nebraska) due to Iowa having actual regulations about meat processing). Branstad loosened those regulations, IBP stormed into Iowa and in less than a decade put most of the unionized meatpackers out of business.

    For me, IBP was the start of neoliberalism. After some initial squawking, Iowa Democrats became more and more business friendly and labor relations were about service industry unions and not manufacturing (under Branstad in the mid-’80s over 100,000 working Iowans left the state for the SW after their good factory jobs were eliminated, and then their families followed them which had a significant impact on Iowa voting history which had been slowly moving left).

    Reply
    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      If Branstad sits on any boards, could the relevant institutions be boycotted or otherwise inconvenienced till Branstad is forced off those boards? Could all his public appearances be boycotted and picketed? Could his personal life be made unpleasant and humiliating and embarrassing?

      Reply
  4. bruce

    Capital has always regarded labor as expendable, and it’s easier to do when a lot of the labor doesn’t have legal residency. We need to update the classic song “Deportee” with some new lines…

    “The chickens were piled in their fly-blown dried blood” and…

    “My amigos all died of corona-19.”

    And don’t you worry about those chickens. The next shift will hose them off, chill them back down and they’ll be in your poultry case in a week.

    Reply
  5. drumlin woodchuckles

    Here again is a case where individual action is the only action left because the government belongs to the class enemy. Perhaps conquering the government back could be a long-term goal. Or maybe just a dream.

    In the meantime, how can disapproving individuals express their individual disapproval of IBP choosing to run Typhoid MAGA corona-spreader plants? With state-of-Iowa-government support and approval? All I can think of is the passive defensive approach of finding out all the places that carry IBP meat and boycotting meat from those places till they can prove they don’t buy any more meat from this or any other Typhoid MAGA corona plant. Is that too broad for now? Perhaps a focus boycotting meat product from this plant, then.

    “What about the workers”? Well, that same objection was raised to a general boycott against South Africa till the South Afrigov gave in to certain ANC wants and wishes. But ANC said they were willing to make the sacrifice now for greater benefits through victory later.

    So a project to spend a couple of years finding all the places meat from this plant goes to, and then boycotting meat from all those places until all those places can prove they get no more meat from this plant . . . might torture and terrorise the Typhoid MAGA corona-spreading meat industry to stop spreading any more corona in its plants.

    Reply
      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        And eat what instead? Petrochemical GMO soybeans and corn and Roundup-enriched oats and so forth?

        And if people just stop eating meat, WHICH meat? ALL meat? Or just the Corporate Shitmeat behind these disease hot spots?

        Artisan beef-on-pasture is being discovered more and more and more to bio-suckdown and bio-sequester more net-net carbon than what it emits. Given that fact, I plan to eat what little carbon-capture beef I can afford to help the carbon-capture farmers pay for capturing carbon. If that makes you mad, then that makes me happy.

        Reply
  6. LarryMotuz

    Wow. The message is the you can be fined less than $3.00 per worker infected because your firm was negligent in offering protections to workers.

    That message must be just terrifying to this company and to others like it.

    Anybody care to estimate what the actual costs borne by the infected workers have been? I ‘guesstimate’ exponentially higher daily than the $2.83 per worker the company had to pay overall for the entire period.

    Reply

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