Family seeks accountability after meatpacking deaths [Video]

“My dad was definitely the heart of the family.”

Betty Sanchez Rangel lost her father to COVID-19 after he went to work at a meatpacking facility where the coronavirus was spreading rapidly.

Her father, Saul Sanchez, died in April. He was one of six workers who died of COVID-19 at JBS slaughterhouse in Greeley, Colorado, the site of one of the earliest and deadliest coronavirus outbreaks at a U.S. meatpacking plant.

Before getting sick, 78-year-old Sanchez only left home to work on the fabrication line, where cattle are sliced into cuts of beef, and to go to his church with a small congregation of five people, his daughter told Reuters. She said no one else in the family or at the church became ill.

JBS denied the family’s application for workers’ compensation benefits, along with those filed by the families of at least two other workers who died of COVID-19, lawyers handling the cases told Reuters.

JBS argued that the employees’ infections were not work-related.

But Sanchez’s daughter isn’t buying it.

SANCHEZ RANGEL, SAYING: “My thing is, ‘How can JBS prove that he didn’t get sick there, considering the fact that so many people have came COME forward that were sick before he was and worked with him?’.”

The meatpacking industry has suffered severe coronavirus outbreaks, in part because production-line workers often work side-by-side for long shifts. Companies including JBS, Tyson Foods and Smithfield Foods temporarily closed about 20 plants this spring after outbreaks. President Donald Trump in April to ordered the plants to stay open to ensure the nation’s meat supply.

Tyson has also been denying claims for workers’ compensation for employees at a plant in Waterloo, Iowa, which had a major outbreak, workers’ attorneys told Reuters. Smithfield had a major outbreak at a plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, but workers there have generally not filed claims, a union official said, in part because the company has paid the wages and medical bills of infected workers.

JBS acknowledged rejecting the claims and called its denials consistent with the law.

But that’s little consolation for Sanchez Rangel.

SANCHEZ RANGEL: “I do think companies do need to be held accountable. If they’re responsible for that many employees and there are deaths occurring because they didn’t take the right precautions to take care of their employees, there needs to be some accountability.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that through May there were 239 meat processing plants with confirmed COVID-19 cases, 16,233 workers infected and 86 deaths.

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