COVID-19 Health and Safety Citations Issued at Smithfield-Owned Southern California Meatpacking Plant, Largest Packinghouse Citations Nationwide

Press Releases November 16, 2020

COVID-19 Health and Safety Citations Issued at Smithfield-Owned Southern California Meatpacking Plant,

Largest Packinghouse Citations Nationwide

For Immediate Release: Nov. 16, 2020
Contact: Damaris Lara, damaris.lara, 213.924.2419
Maya Solarana, maya.solarana 402.957.3395

Versión en Español abajo

COVID-19 Health and Safety Citations Issued at Smithfield-Owned Southern California Meatpacking Plant, Largest Packinghouse Citations Nationwide

Following Months-long Investigation, Cal/OSHA Cited Vernon-based Farmer John Plant for Serious Violations

LOS ANGELES — The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA), has issued the largest citation at a meatpacking plant nationwide to Smithfield-owned Farmer John for a set of serious and regulatory COVID-19 violations of health and safety regulations. The fines at the Farmer John facility in Vernon amount to more than $100,000 for the company and its subcontractor, CitiStaff Solutions.

More than 315 workers out of 1,800 at the Farmer John plant in Vernon contracted the coronavirus since March, with at least three people hospitalized. A spike in infections in May prompted the UFCW 770 to call for an immediate closure of the plant and an investigation from Cal/OSHA. The union filed complaints in May. The months-long investigation by the state reveals that workers were exposed to COVID-19 in multiple ways including that employees were not allowed to physically distance on the major lines in the plant.

Workers at Farmer John have been pressing the company for increased safety measures, workplace protections and information about infections at the plant for months. Information has been incomplete and safety measures insufficient.

“In the absence of leadership from Smithfield, we have taken it on ourselves to call for safer working conditions and an investigation from Cal/OSHA,” said José Guzman, a worker at Farmer John. “They’ve never taken our health seriously – we are disposable to them as long as their profits keep going up, and it’s no surprise to see this many citations given.”

Cal/OSHA found that most of the workforce as well as temporary employees were exposed, sometimes multiple times, to COVID-19. The workplace hazards include:

  • Smithfield did not allow employees to physically distance on the six major lines inside the facility nor did Smithfield articulate or provide a safe alternative to distancing.
  • Smithfield did not provide training or instruction to employees and contract employees on methods to reduce the spread of the virus.
  • Smithfield’s protocol related to facemasks could potentially spread the virus.
  • Smithfield did not properly investigate or notify employees of COVID exposure.
  • Smithfield did not notify Cal/OSHA of three separate hospitalizations of employees due to COVID.

The citations at Farmer John totaled over $100,000 in penalties. Cal/OSHA cited Smithfield for $58,000 and its subcontractor, CitiStaff Solutions, Inc, for $47,000 at the Vernon facility.

Smithfield is a subsidiary of WH Group, LTD, a China based pork processing company and the largest pork company in the world. It is a global market leader in all key segments of the pork value chain, including packaged meats, fresh pork and hog production. WH Group has been recording record profits, with revenue during the first six months of 2020 hitting $12.481 billion, a 12.2% increase compared with the same period last year. Operating profits increased by 20.9% year-on-year to $925 million.

“Nothing Smithfield, nor local Farmer John management, has done has been in the interest of workers. Even back in May when cases spiked to 135 workers sickened with COVID-19, one of the worst outbreaks in Los Angeles county, they did not address safety concerns and they ignored recommendations and concerns from their own employees, instead the number has now risen to over 315,” said John Grant, president of UFCW Local 770. “The working conditions there have been horrific, and these citations show exactly what workers were exposed to every day they were on the job.”

The fines are in stark contrast with the federal OSHA, which cited a Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota for failing to protect employees from exposure to the coronavirus and proposed a fine of $13,494. The Sioux Falls plant was an early coronavirus hotspot, with 1,294 workers contracting COVID-19 and four fatalities.


About UFCW Local 770:

UFCW Local 770 represents over 20,000 grocery workers in Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo counties. Overall, the union represents more than 30,000 members in the retail food, retail pharmacy, meatpacking and food processing, laboratory, and cannabis industries.