A whistleblower has come forward to allege the working conditions at a JBS meat packing plant in Greely, Colorado, do not comply with state and federal COVID-19 safety requirements, according to a Denver7 investigation.
The employee told Denver7 Investigates that there is no social distancing “inside and outside the plant, and workers continue to get sick.” When the employee began to show symptoms of COVID-19, her supervisors did not instruct her to go home (however, “she later tested negative for the virus”).
The JBS meat packing plant closed in early April for two weeks due to a COVID-19 breakout. There are 281 confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the plant, and six workers at the plant have passed away from the virus and one corporate employee.
Denver7 Investigates filmed outside of the plant and observed workers not keeping a proper distance from one another. Additionally, Colorado’s leading epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy “said the state health department conducted an unannounced visit to JBS after receiving an interview request from Denver7 Investigates. “We did observe some clustering of employees as they entered the facility and, obviously, when individuals are clustered, there is potential for transmission to occur,” Herlihy said.
JBS has yet to respond to Denver7 Investigates’ interview requests but issued the following statement: “We will continue doing all we can to keep the virus out of our facility and keep our team members safe as the nation continues to battle COVID-19. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone who has been impacted by the pandemic and with our JBS families who have lost loved ones.”
Amid the Coronavirus pandemic, workers depend on worker safety laws to protect them against unsafe work environments. In particular, they rely on the whistleblower provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), the primary federal law requiring a safe work environment.
“Under OSHA, employees can refuse to perform work that could result in ‘serious injury or death.’ But Labor Department rules give wide discretion to the Secretary of Labor to interpret this ‘right.’ Any aggressive ‘back to work’policy implemented by the Trump administration would radically diminish the ability of workers to protect themselves,” Kohn, a founding partner in the whistleblower law firm of Kohn, Kohn and Colapinto, explains.
In a call to action to protect front-line workers, the National Whistleblower Center, where Kohn serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors, asks the public to urge Congress to implement needed reforms to the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
“Congress is in the process of spending trillions of dollars in fighting the hardships caused by the coronavirus pandemic. They need to take some time and enact a law to promote the reporting of threats to the public health and patient safety,” Kohn said.
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