GREELEY, Colo. (CBS4) – The family of the first JBS Foods Inc. employee to die of COVID-19 said they feel the U.S. Department of Labor’s $15,615 fine against the meat packing company was both insulting and laughable. Saul Sanchez’s family said the fine is less money than they spent to bury the patriarch of their family.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said the fine was issued after the company failed “to protect employees from exposure to the coronavirus.” Officials with OSHA, via a release, said the fine was the maximum punishment allowed.
Records show JBS, as a corporation, brought in more than $50 billion in 2019, meaning the fine is only 0.0000026% of their annual income.
Seven JBS employees in Greeley died of COVID-19. Six were line workers, the seventh was a corporate employee. Some said the fine meant each life was only worth $2,230 to the company and OSHA.
“It’s a huge slap in the face,” said Beatriz Rangel, Sanchez’s daughter. “They bring in over $50 billion a year, and they get slapped with $15,000? That’s what enables these companies to not care for their employees.”
It has been five months since Rangel lost her father, an employee of JBS for more than 30 years.
“It has been very sad and empty,” Rangel told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas. “I think my dad would be sad (with how OSHA and JBS handled the fine.)”
Sanchez’s family collectively agreed the punishment issued by OSHA was insufficient for the violations the agency said JBS committed.
“At the end of the day, that is more of a joke,” Rangel said.
In a release issued on the fine, OSHA wrote:
“Based on a coronavirus-related inspection, OSHA cited the company – which operates as Swift Beef Company – for a violation of the general duty clause for failing to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards that can cause death or serious harm. The penalty assessed for the general duty clause violation is the maximum allowed by law. The company also failed to provide an authorized employee representative with injury and illness logs in a timely manner following OSHA’s May 2020 inspection.”
“At first I was excited to see that they were actually doing something about it. Then, when I saw the dollar amount I thought ‘how sad,’” Rangel said. “It’s not fair. It’s not right.”
The union representing the JBS workers in Greeley, UFCW7, also condemned what they said was a lack of punishment issued by OSHA.
“This is devastating,” said Kim Cordova, president of the union. “They failed to do their job.”
Cordova said the union was evaluating the next steps they can take.
“(OSHA was) not interested in addressing, or holding this company accountable for the deaths in that plant,” Cordova said. “This is going to incentivize employers to continue to put workers lives and safety at risk.”
In a written statement to CBS4, JBS said they do not agree with OSHA’s findings, and said they have gone above and beyond to protect employees.
“The OSHA citation is entirely without merit. It attempts to impose a standard that did not exist in March as we fought the pandemic with no guidance. When OSHA finally provided guidance in late April, one month after the beginning of the citation time period, our previously implemented preventive measures largely exceeded any of their recommendations. Every proposed abatement in the citation was implemented months ago in Greeley. These abatements would have been informative in February. Today, they donâ€™t even meet our internal standards.
We have implemented hundreds of interventions to protect our workforce, including screening all employees prior to entering the facility, staggering start times and break times, requiring the use of masks and face shields, erecting physical barriers, installing UV germicidal air sanitation and plasma bipolar ionization technologies to neutralize potential viruses, and removing vulnerable populations from our facilities with full pay and benefits. We also conduct random, routine surveillance testing of asymptomatic team members, which has resulted in zero positives to date, to ensure our preventive measures remain effective as the pandemic continues.
Contrary to the allegations in the citation, the Greeley facility is in full compliance with all recommended guidance and hazard abatements. The facility has been audited and reviewed by multiple health professionals and government experts, including the CDC, local and state health departments, third-party epidemiologists, and the Department of Labor, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, who twice visited the plant during the citation period, and issued favorable reports on April 20th and May 8th.
The Greeley facility has only had 14 confirmed positives in the past three and half months, representing 0.4% of our Greeley workforce, despite an ongoing community outbreak. The facility has not had a positive case in nearly seven weeks, despite more than 1,730 positives in the county and more than 33,300 positive cases in the state during the same time period.”
Sanchez’s family said JBS failed one of their longest and most dedicated employees, and hundreds of others, with the way they handled the COVID-19 coronavirus.
“There is no amount of money that will bring back my dad or the other employees, but that is beyond disappointing,” Rangel said.