Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) is turning up the heat on giant meat producers that he believes let COVID-19 fester among workers at their facilities.
Clyburn—the House Majority Whip, chairman of the new Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, and the man widely credited with securing the Democratic nomination for Joe Biden last year—blasted a fusillade of letters to Biden’s Office of Safety and Health Administration and major meat producers alike on Monday. These messages reflect his subcommittee’s findings that some 54,000 workers contracted the novel coronavirus at 569 meatpacking plants nationwide, based on news reports, and that 270 of those have died.
“Public reports indicate that under the Trump Administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) failed to adequately carry out its responsibility for enforcing worker-safety laws at meatpacking plants across the country, resulting in preventable infections and deaths,” Clyburn wrote in his missive to OSHA. “It is imperative that the previous Administration’s shortcomings are swiftly identified and rectified to save lives in the months before coronavirus vaccinations are available for all Americans.”
Clyburn targeted giants JBS, Smithfield, Cargill, and Tyson, alluding to reports that they had obligated their vulnerable workforce to labor under dangerous circumstances. The congressman called on OSHA and several of the companies involved to appear before the House at a hearing on Feb. 15.
Smithfield, for its part, blamed the press for its problems and insisted that it had sunk $700 million into safety measures at its facilities.
“From early in the pandemic, we have taken extraordinary measures to protect our team members from the virus and we have met or exceeded the prevailing federal, state and local health and safety guidance, including with personal protective equipment,” said Chief Administrative Officer Keira Lombardo. “It is unfortunate that there are inaccuracies and misinformation in the media on this issue and we look forward to providing the Subcommittee with correct information.”