Workers at a Northern Missouri processing plant are suing their employer, accusing the company of not doing enough to protect their health. The New York Times is reporting that an anonymous worker at Smithfield’s pork processing plant in Milan, along with the Rural Community Workers Alliance, filed suit Thursday in a Kansas City federal court, accusing Smithfield of creating a public nuisance by failing to protect its workers from coronavirus and other health problems. The plaintiffs argue that the company is requiring workers to stand shoulder to shoulder and go hours without being able to clean or sanitize their hands or take bathroom breaks. They say the problem is now compounded by coronavirus, which has hit meatpacking plants particularly hard, reducing beef production capacity in the U.S. by 10 percent and pork production by 25 percent. A spokeswoman for Smithfield told the Times that the lawsuit was without merit, adding that the accusations included claims previously made against the company that were later deemed unfounded.
The Times notes that lawyers for the plaintiffs are attempting to apply public nuisance laws to worker safety, suggesting that unsafe conditions in the plant could impact the entire community. Plaintiffs are not asking for monetary damages or compensation, but instead a court order for Smithfield to change its practices to reduce the risk of injury and illness. Among the changes sought is slowing the production line down, which workers say would give them time to cover their mouths while coughing or to clean their nose after sneezing. Smithfield says they have already installed barriers between some workers on their line, as well as providing masks and conducting temperature checks before workers clock in.
As of Friday morning, the state of Missouri reports no confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in Sullivan County, where the plant is located. However, the anonymous worker says in the lawsuit that at least eight of their co-workers had to stay home after exhibiting symptoms consistent with the virus.
Click here to read the lawsuit filed Thursday in the US District Court of Western Missouri