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 regulators have issued their first citation to a meatpacking plant with a large #coronavirus outbreak that sickened its workforce — a $957 fine for a minor record-keeping violation. https://t.co/xNrLgQe8oo
— Star Tribune Business (@StribBiz) September 24, 2020
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:
Wow. 338 workers got sick in this outbreak, and Iowa Premium Beef negotiated down their Iowa OSHA fine from $1,914 to $957. https://t.co/Ras0kb1v76
— Leah Douglas (@leahjdouglas) September 24, 2020
40% of their employees test positive for COVID and you only fine the company $957??? Jfc.
— Justin Kittle (@justinkittle) September 24, 2020
An underappreciated narrative from this pandemic will be how far state and federal officials go to hold corporations accountable for their actions
Important to note this was reduced from a $1,914 fine to $957 https://t.co/fHP9PF8wt0
— Jake Holzman (@jacob_holzman) September 24, 2020
The first Iowa fine comes less than two weeks after the U.S. Labor Department fined JBS 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.
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.