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Smithfield Attacks Worker-Safety Injunction Bid Ahead of Hearing

April 29, 2020, 11:58 PM

Smithfield Foods Inc. says the injunction request filed by employees seeking increased virus-related safety measures at its pork processing plant in Missouri isn’t supported by credible evidence, according to federal court filings.

The court should strike the five declarations offered here, which are largely based on “newspaper articles, third-hand reports, and innuendo,” instead of personal knowledge and relevant experience, Smithfield said in a motion filed Wednesday. An injunction request isn’t “an evidentiary free for all.”

Jane Doe, an unidentified plant worker, claimed that Smithfield only gave face masks to some employees and encouraged them to come into work sick by offering $500 to those who didn’t miss any April shifts. But it’s “impossible” to assess the credibility of these statements because she hasn’t identified herself, Smithfield said.

One declarant said he heard about the allegedly unsafe conditions from unidentified plant employees through his work at the Rural Community Workers Alliance, the group that filed the lawsuit, Smithfield noted. The other declarants—a doctor, a lawyer, and a lobbyist—have never been to any pork processing plant or talked to anyone who works at one.

A hearing on the injunction is set for Thursday at 11 a.m. before Judge Greg Kays of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri. If granted, it would force Smithfield to comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, Missouri public health orders, and other worker-safety measures.

David S. Muraskin of Public Justice, one of the groups representing the RCWA, whose members consist exclusively of workers in northern Missouri, filed the suit on behalf of the plant’s employees.

At the hearing, the RCWA will present evidence that “Smithfield is fully capable of complying with CDC guidelines but they chose not to,” Muraskin said Wednesday. “They’re claiming they cannot space out workers but they absolutely can space workers,” he said.

“Smithfield is putting its interests in front of everyone else in the most robberbaronesque maneuver possible,” Muraskin added. Nearly eight plant workers have already been forced to stay home because of Covid-19 symptoms.

Jean Paul Bradshaw II of Lathrop GPM LLP in Kansas City, Mo. represents Smithfield, and wasn’t immediately available for comment.

The case is Rural Cmty. Worker’s All. v. Smithfield Foods, Inc., W.D. Mo., No. 5:20-cv-06063, motion to strike 4/29/20.

To contact the reporters on this story: Kathleen Dailey at kdailey@bloomberglaw.com; Fatima Hussein in Washington at fhussein@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Carmen Castro-Pagan at ccastro-pagan@bloomberglaw.com

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