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Colorado workers protest COVID-19 fine issued to meat plant

Six JBS employees have died of the novel coronavirus and at least 290 have contracted the virus since the pandemic began in March.

GREELEY, Colo. — A union representing workers at a Colorado meatpacking plant where six workers died of the coronavirus and hundreds more were infected is claiming a fine issued to the company is too low. 

UFCW Local 7 gathered some of its members and families of JBS Greeley workers who died of COVID-19 outside of the Denver Occupational Safety and Health Office (OSHA) Wednesday to protest a fine recently imposed on the meatpacking plant by OSHA.

On Friday, OSHA announced a $15,615 fine against JBS Greeley for "failing to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards that can cause death or serious harm.” It’s a fine the group feels is far too small for the “largest protein producer in the world” which did $51 billion in net revenue in 2019.

RELATED: JBS cited for failing to protect employees during COVID-19, OSHA recommends $15,615 fine

OSHA did not respond to 9NEWS’ request for comment but said in its press release Friday that it’s the maximum fine of its kind allowed.

“Food processing workers, they're the backbone of this country and responsible for feeding this nation,” said UFCW Local 7 President Kim Cordova. “And instead of treating them as essential, critical workers they treated our members and workers as disposable and as sacrificial human beings.”

Beatriz Rangel also spoke. Her father, Saul Sanchez, was the first JBS Greeley employee to die from COVID-19.

“My dad's biggest concern was that, to let the rest of the employees, people he works with, to let them know he had COVID, because he didn't want anyone to get sick,” Rangel said. “My dad had more concern for his coworkers, for the employees of JBS than JBS did themselves.”

Cordova has been adamant from the start that JBS has not done enough to protect workers from coronavirus. Six JBS Greeley meatpacking plant employees have died in the last seven months. Beyond the fine, Cordova said she feels OSHA could have done more.

“We contacted OSHA in the beginning of this pandemic in mid-March and we asked OSHA to come out and inspect these job sites. They refused to do so,” Cordova said to the crowd.

Several speakers, including Colorado State Treasurer Dave Young who said the Department of Labor which oversees OSHA should be renamed “the department of corporate greed,” are calling on new maximums to be set. Young suggested a daily fine based on the number of employees a company has.

“When you levy a fine it should make the board of directors and administration of that company pause and think, ‘we’ve got to stop doing what we’re doing because if we don’t those fines are going to drive us down,’” said Young.

JBS sent 9NEWS the following statement in response to the OSHA fine:

“Since February, we have fundamentally changed the way we do business as a result of coronavirus. We have implemented hundreds of safety interventions and are following, often times exceeding, all CDC and OSHA-issued guidance with regard to safety and social distancing. We recognize our responsibility as a food company during this crisis, and we have continuously evolved our operations based on best practices and the latest available guidance from experts. 

Though the coronavirus has impacted more than 6.5 million American families, the pain of the pandemic has been felt directly by our Greeley family, including the tragic loss of six of our beef plant team members and one of our corporate colleagues. We share the grief of those who lost loved ones to this virus. We will continue to work hard every day to do everything we can to safely defeat this virus while providing food for our country.

In Greeley, $16.1 million has been invested in bonuses and wage increases for our team members. 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 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

The Greeley 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.”

RELATED: JBS workers receive pay raises following July 10 walkout

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