U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, D-South Carolina, announced Monday that the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis would start an investigation of Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale and two other food companies after more than 250 employees of the companies have died during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The other companies are Smithfield Foods of Smithfield, Virginia, and JBS USA of Greeley, Colorado, a subsidiary of JBS of Brazil. Clyburn, the chairman of the subcommittee, said he had sent letters to the companies and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, requesting documents related to the coronavirus.
"The Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis is investigating the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on workers in the meatpacking industry," Clyburn wrote to Tyson Foods CEO Dean Banks that was mistakenly addressed to former CEO Noel White. "Public reports indicate that meatpacking companies, including Tyson Foods, 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."
Tyson Foods said it would cooperate with the subcommittee in a statement from Tyson Foods spokesman Gary Mickelson.
"Our top priority will always be the health and safety of our people, and we look forward to working with the congressional committee to share what we've done and continue to do to protect our team members from the coronavirus," Mickelson said. "We've invested more than half a billion dollars during the pandemic to transform our U.S. facilities with protective measures, from walk-through temperature scanners and workstation dividers to social distance monitors and additional team member pay and benefits. In addition, we've added a Chief Medical Officer to help us safeguard and improve the health of our workforce. We're also using random testing as a tool to find the virus, testing thousands of workers a week, both symptomatic and asymptomatic. This strategy has enabled us to move from defense to offense in our efforts to fight the virus."
The subcommittee's news release said the investigation is a result of reports of 54,000 infected workers at 569 meatpacking plants in the country; at least 270 have died and the subcommittee said more than two-thirds of meatpacking employees are Black or Hispanic.
The subcommittee also said OSHA issued just eight citations and less than $80,000 in fines for violations related to the coronavirus at meatpacking plants during the Trump Administration.
"[I]n the last year, OSHA failed to issue enforceable rules, respond in a timely manner to complaints, and issue meaningful fines when a company's unsafe practices led to the deaths of employees," Clyburn said in his letter to OSHA. "As a result, I am concerned that under the Trump Administration, OSHA did not fulfill its mission to protect vulnerable meatpacking workers during the pandemic."