*This article has been updated to include a statement issued by JBS*
DENVER (CBS4)– Many of the dozens who gathered on Wednesday, on a parking deck outside OSHA offices in an office building on Speer Boulevard, stood their distance apart. These were people who know well the seriousness of the coronavirus.
“He can’t work,” said Rosario Hernandez about her husband Alfredo, 55.
He pulled an oxygen machine on wheels. His oxygen levels often still run at about 80% when most of us are well over 90%. It’s been five months since he first got COVID-19.
Alfredo was working at the JBS meat packing facility cleaning the cafeteria, locker rooms and bathrooms.
“I never thought that Alfredo would get sick,” she said.
They were among the people who came to a union-organized protest of the fine levied by OSHA on JBS, $15,615. It was for failing to protect its employees and not providing injury and illness logs in a timely manner. OSHA has said the fine handed down was the maximum allowed.
Six workers at the plant and one corporate worker died when an outbreak at the plant hit. Hundreds more were sickened. Among those who died, 78-year-old Saul Sanchez.
“After 30 years of working there she would tell him, ‘You know, you need to retire and stay home,’” said his daughter, translating for his wife Carolina. “But he would just go on, going to work.”
The daughter, Patricia Rangel remembered her father as a kind man who constantly helped other people, including women who were victimized and the homeless.
“My father gave them blankets during the winter. My father helped them with a little bit of money here and there.”
“It’s incredible what OSHA just did,” she again translated for her mother. “It’s not OK,” said Carolina.
JBS has taken issue with the fine, calling it “entirely without merit.” Meat packing facilities were deemed “critical infrastructure” by the President in late April. It helps JBS with some legal defense to liability as it resumed operations following a shutdown. Many families remain steadfast in their belief that JBS could have done more to protect and help its workers.
”That this company stands on these people’s backs to make all their money to move forward, is that how little they value each employee?” questioned Patricia Rangel.
JBS takes issue with the citation and spokesperson Nikki Richardson sent a statement including the following:
“Contrary to the allegations in the OSHA 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 20 and May 8.”