Lawsuit says Smithfield contributing to COVID-19 spread

Lawsuit says Smithfield contributing to COVID-19 spread

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Anonymous employee says working conditions do not allow for social distancing, among other complaints

A federal lawsuit accuses Smithfield Foods of contributing to the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in its facilities.

The suit, filed last week in federal court in Kansas City, was brought by a Milan, Missouri, processing plant worker identified only as Jane Doe and the Rural Community Workers Alliance, a nonprofit that advocates for plant workers. It accuses Smithfield of failing to provide workers with sufficient personal protective equipment, forcing them to work in a setting that does not allow for social distancing, not allowing sufficient time for hand washing, discouraging them from taking sick leave and failing to implement a COVID-19 testing and contact tracing plan.

“I am afraid for my health and safety, as well as the health and safety of people I am in contact with and the larger community because of the way in which Smithfield is managing the plant in response to COVID-19,” according to a declaration submitted on behalf of Jane Doe.

There have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the Milan plant, but several workers have called in sick with symptoms, according to reports.

The lawsuit seeks a court injunction that would force Smithfield to change its policies to comply with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local health officials. Meat processing facilities in Missouri are allowed to stay open under the state’s stay-at-home order but must follow CDC and public health guidelines.

“All we want, all we are asking for is for (Smithfield) to aggressively defend its workers,” said David Muraskin, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. “If they do that, our claims go away.”

In a statement, Keira Lombardo, executive vice president of corporate affairs and compliance for Smithfield Foods, said: “The health and safety of our employees is our top priority at all times. The allegations contained in the complaint are without factual or legal merit and include claims previously made against the company that have been investigated and determined to be unfounded. We look forward to aggressively defending the company in court.”

Smithfield, the largest pork processor in the U.S., has had to close at least five of its plants due to COVID-19, including those in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Cudahy, Wisconsin; Martin City, Missouri; St. Charles, Illinois; and Monmouth, Illinois.

The case is Rural Community Workers Alliance v. Smithfield Foods Inc., U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, No. 5:20-cv-06063.

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