February 2, 2021 — A House panel overseeing the COVID-19 pandemic is investigating coronavirus outbreaks at meatpacking plants, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) failure to properly protect workers.
SD Voices for Peace (SDVFP) welcomes this congressional investigation holding the nation’s meat processing plants accountable for their lack of preparation and action when the pandemic broke in the United States, nearly a year ago.
When the Smithfield outbreak wreaked havoc in Sioux Falls, SD in late March of 2020, SDVFP received calls from employees explaining their fears, lack of information and lack of personal protective equipment provided. Pressure from the SD Dream Coalition’s advocacy organizations, employee unions and elected officials forced Smithfield to shut down for 14 days.
“We believed the employees who were calling us,” said Taneeza Islam, Executive Director of SDVFP. “Other than collecting and reporting these stories to the community, and pressuring decision makers, advocacy organizations do not have the power to hold Smithfield accountable as elected officials and decision-making bodies do. Acknowledgement from the federal government that things ‘could and should have been better’ is a relief for the thousands of employees, families and friends who believed Smithfield’s employees too.”
Smithfield’s failure to protect its workers—90 percent of whom are immigrants and refugees—resulted in one of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks in the region, four employee deaths and nearly 1,300 cases originating at the plant. On September 10, 2020, OSHA cited Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls for workplace safety violations such as not protecting employees from COVID-19 exposure, and fined the company $13,494.
Reports indicate that nearly 1,700 South Dakota meatpacking plant workers have contracted COVID-19, and five workers have died due to coronavirus.
South Dakota Voices for Peace provides education, legal services and advocacy to build power and enable healing in refugee, immigrant, and Muslim communities by amplifying their voices and working in solidarity with all who dismantle bigotry and racism. SDVFP is a member of the SD Dream Coalition, which includes immigrant and ally-led immigrant services nonprofits in Eastern South Dakota