SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A new report released today from federal lawmakers says coronavirus infections and deaths among meat packing workers are significantly higher than previous estimates. The report includes new data from the Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls.

The documents, which can be found here, include data from Smithfield, JBS, Tyson Foods, Cargill and National Beef. The evidence shows that at least 59,000 employees contracted COVID-19 while 269 workers died.

That’s nearly three times higher than what was previously estimated.

Originally, 929 workers at the Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls were reported to have contracted COVID-19.
However, new data shows more than 1,600 workers became infected — that’s about 42 percent of employees.

The documents also say many meatpacking executives prioritized profits and production over worker safety.

Lawmakers received internal communications showing that Smithfield executives were vigorously pushing back on federal and state government recommendations on April 21st, 2020. At that time, the Sioux Falls plant was one of the nation’s hotspots.

The Chief Executive Officer flagged several CDC recommendations as “problematic” and asked what flexible attendance policies have to do with reducing the spread of the coronavirus.

The CDC ended up revising its report saying all recommendations were “not required or mandated”, allowing Smithfield to effectively ignore some recommendations. Federal regulators later fined Smithfield $13,000 because it didn’t do more to protect employees.

Workers and labor organizers who spoke with lawmakers say many meat packing employers either refused to implement coronavirus precautions or did so in name only.