Meat processing plants in Missouri have proven to be a reliable source of coronavirus infections. With the close proximity of the workers and the difficult work environment, germs spread easily. The processing plants, however, have been slow and less than willing to take adequate safety precautions.
Workers in a processing plant in Milan, Missouri, filed a lawsuit for these failures to keep them safe. The lawsuit, however, was dismissed by the judge, who insisted that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was the better branch of government to resolve the issue.
Workers Sue Missouri Meat Processing Plant
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, meat processing plants were declared to be “critical infrastructure” that had to stay open. This was a serious problem for workers, who regularly stand for hours over conveyor belts, shoulder-to-shoulder with coworkers.
The Smithfield Plant in Milan, Missouri, however, initially did very little to ensure their workers’ safety. They refused to allow workers to social distance on the job, forced sick employees to come into work or risk being fired, and did not test workers for the virus. As time passed and workers got sick with COVID-19, Smithfield continued to drag its feet. They started providing their workers with face masks, but only gave them one per week.
The workers filed a lawsuit in federal court, asking the judge to issue an injunction and force the plant to take measures to protect them at work.
Judge Dismisses Lawsuit, Saying Workers Do Not Face Irreparable Harm
In between the filing of the lawsuit and the court’s decision, OSHA announced that they were investigating the Smithfield Plant. President Trump also signed an executive order that asked meat processing plants to stay open while meeting the safety guidelines provided by OSHA and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Those guidelines, however, only required social distancing and other precautions “where feasible,” and to “consider” testing workers for the virus. This let meat processing plants like Smithfield claim that they were doing all they could, while barely lifting a finger.
The judge, however, took Smithfield at its word, finding that the plant was complying with the safety guidelines. He dismissed the lawsuit for not satisfying the requirements necessary to issue the injunction and because OSHA had intervened to investigate.
One of those requirements is that the workers faced a “threat of irreparable harm” if the injunction was not issued. Strangely, the judge ruled that the risk of infection to the coronavirus did not satisfy this requirement, as it was “too speculative.” He also relied on Smithfield’s claim that there were no confirmed cases at the plant at the time, something that was likely made possible by meat processing plants’ refusal to test anyone.
St. Joseph Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at the Smith Law Office
Rulings like these put workers at risk in Missouri and throughout the rest of the U.S. Meat processing plants continue to be hotbeds for the coronavirus, leaving thousands of workers at risk of getting sick, and then bringing the virus home to their families.