The nonprofit workers group the Rural Community Workers Alliance and an unidentified worker at a Smithfield processing facility in Missouri have filed suit against the company, alleging it failed to institute measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as maintaining distance between workers, providing personal protective equipment, and allowing time for handwashing. The complaint also alleges that workers often do not even have sufficient time to cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze. The plaintiffs are seeking changes in working conditions, but no money damages.
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Smithfield Workers File Suit, Allege Company Failed to Protect them During Pandemic
Federal Judge Dismisses Suit Brought by Smithfield Workers
A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by a nonprofit workers group and an unidentified worker at a Smithfield processing facility in Missouri alleging that the company failed to institute measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The judge ruled that the workers need to ask the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration about workplace protections.
Minnesota Considers Legislation to Protect Meat and Poultry Processing Workers
Minnesota Senate Bill 1598, entitled the Safe Workplaces for Meat and Poultry Processing Workers Act, would require the appointment of a state “meatpacking industry worker rights coordinator” in the Department of Labor and Industry. The bill would also establish that meat-processing workers have a right to refuse to work “under conditions that the worker reasonably believes would expose the worker, other workers, or the public to an unreasonable risk of illness or injury, or exposure to illness or injury.” Meat-processing employers would be prohibited from retaliating against a worker for making a good faith refusal to work, and the bill would authorize civil and whistleblower enforcement of the Act along with requiring certain safety training, record keeping, and medical resources.
Minnesota Considers Instituting Workplace Safety Measures for Meat and Poultry Plants
Minnesota House Bill 800, titled the Safe Workplaces for Meat and Poultry Processing Workers Act, would require the appointment of a meatpacking industry worker rights coordinator in the Department of Labor and Industry, grant meat processing workers the right to refuse to work “under conditions that the worker reasonably believes would expose the worker, other workers, or the public to an unreasonable risk of illness or injury,” and require safety training. The bill also includes protections for whistleblowers and guidelines to govern the administration of unemployment insurance claims for meat-processing workers.
South Dakota Bill Would Establish Worker Safety Requirements and Rights for Meatpacking Employees
South Dakota Senate Bill 145 would establish protections and workplace safety requirements for meat and poultry processing workers. The bill would direct the South Dakota Secretary of the Department of Labor and Regulation to appoint a meatpacking industry worker rights coordinator who must be allowed access to processing facilities whenever workers are present. The bill also provides that workers have the right to refuse to work under conditions that they reasonably believe would create an unreasonable risk of illness or injury to themselves, their coworkers, or the public. The bill would prohibit employers from discriminating against workers who exercise their meatpacking workplace safety rights. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce and Energy.
Former Employees Allege Meat Processor Denied Pandemic Leave
Two former employees have filed suit [Complaint 1 and Complaint 2] against a Pennsylvania meat processor, John F. Martin & Sons, alleging that the company wrongly terminated them during the Covid-19 pandemic after improperly denying them leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act and Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
Tyson Faces Shareholder Derivative Suit
A new lawsuit alleges fifteen directors breached their fiduciary duty with regard to the company’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The complaint cites insufficient provision of PPE to workers, failure to warn employees of possible exposure to positive cases of the coronavirus, efforts to have the industry deemed “essential,” wrongful death lawsuits, and false and misleading statements regarding the company’s handling of the pandemic.
Federal Court Dismisses Meatpacker Covid-19 Wrongful Death Suit Against Tyson Foods
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissed a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the surviving spouse of a former Original Philly Cheesesteak Co. meat packing plant worker who died three weeks after being exposed to COVID-19 on the job. Plaintiff argued that Tyson, the parent company, was liable for wrongful death because it did not require the use of PPE and maintained a work-while-sick policy that penalized those who took sick days. The court dismissed Plaintiff’s suit after ruling that workers compensation is the sole remedy for job-related injuries, and therefore, both Tyson and Philly Cheesesteak are immune from litigation relating to Plaintiff’s husband’s death. The suit was dismissed with prejudice, meaning that the plaintiff may not attempt to amend her complaint or sue Tyson for the same cause of action again.
USDA Experiments with Increased Line Speed for Pig Slaughter
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is inviting pork producers to increase slaughter line speeds during a one-year trial period after a federal judge ruled that the USDA had improperly eliminated line speed limitations in March 2021 due to workplace safety concerns associated with faster processing. During the pilot program, processing plants will work with labor unions and other worker safety communities to implement workplace safety measures and share data with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to help shape future industry regulations.
Tyson Seeks to Stay Remand of Workplace COVID-19 Gross Negligence Cases Pending Appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on the Issue of Removal
Tyson Foods, Inc. has filed a motion with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit seeking to stay the court’s mandate that gross negligence cases challenging Tyson’s workplace safety response to the COVID-19 pandemic should return to state court. Tyson is seeking the stay pending its petition for a writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court on the issue of sufficient circumstances for “federal-officer removal.” Tyson had attempted to remove the Iowa state court lawsuits for gross negligence and fraudulent misrepresentation in the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Eighth Circuit affirmed a U.S. district court judge’s decision that the cases should be litigated in state court where they were filed.