According to documents obtained by CNN, officials from Iowa's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) were slow to react to complaints from workers at the Tyson Fresh Meats plant in Perry, Iowa. They declined to inspect the facility and waited over a week before contacting plant officials.
According to the complaint, workers inside the Perry Tyson pork processing plant worked "elbow to elbow" as the coronavirus was rapidly spreading throughout the United States. The complaint was filed on April 11, and Iowa OSHA didn't contact the facility regarding the complaint until April 20. On the same day Iowa OSHA reached out to the plant, it closed for deep cleaning. However, after reopening on April 22, the meat processing plant closed on April 24 to conduct tests. It resumed operations once again on May 4. On May 5, the state revealed that over 700 workers from the Perry plant tested positive for COVID-19.
Meat Processing Workers Are on the COVID-19 Frontlines Nationwide
The complaint to Iowa OSHA echoes the concerns that meatpacking workers around the nation have expressed. Safety advocates and workers relied on word of mouth to find out how many workers were safe. Reports from workers reveal that Tyson and other food companies failed to warn workers of their exposure to the virus and neglected social distancing practices throughout their facilities. Now, some of the nation's worst COVID-19 outbreaks are being attributed to meatpacking plants.
Details About the Iowa OSHA Tyson Fresh Meats Plant Complaint
The documents obtained by CNN reveal that the person who filed the report received confirmation from Iowa OSHA two days after submitting it. Seven days later, Iowa OSHA officials attempted to reach Tyson by phone and email. The agency informed Tyson that it was not investigating the facility and that the company should "investigate the alleged condition(s) and make any necessary corrections or modifications." OSHA listed the reason that it wasn't inspecting the facility as "COVID-19."
Now, lawmakers are asking for answers despite Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds stating that "It appears that they [OSHA] followed normal and their appropriate process." Cindy Axne, U.S. Representative for Iowa's 3rd congressional district, is calling for an investigation of how the agency handled the complaint.
"Iowans are going to depend on Iowa OSHA...therefore, the public must know why a direct complaint of unsafe conditions failed to produce any confirmation of an outbreak," Axne said in a statement.
According to other documents obtained by Accoutnable.US, a government watchdog group, the Iowa Department of Health emailed the Centers for Disease Control on April 15 to ask for assistance with COVID-19 outbreaks in meatpacking facilities. Yet, the IDPH declined to make a formal request because it wanted time to gather more information.
Outside of an April 20 email from the CDC outlining how it could help Iowa officials, no further emails between the two agencies have been obtained.