The U.S. Department of Labor cited meat-processing giant Smithfield Packaged Meats for failing to protect employees from exposure to the coronavirus.

At least 1,294 Smithfield workers contracted coronavirus, and four employees died from the virus in the spring.

The Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said the citation followed a coronavirus-related inspection at the company’s facility in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It was proposing a penalty of $13,494, the maximum allowed by law.

“Employers must quickly implement appropriate measures to protect their workers’ safety and health,” OSHA’s Sioux Falls Area Director Sheila Stanley said in a statement. “Employers must meet their obligations and take the necessary actions to prevent the spread of coronavirus at their worksite.”

Keira Lombardo, executive vice president of corporate affairs and compliance at Smithfield, said the company took “extraordinary measures” on its own initiative to ensure employee safety and the citation was issued over conditions that existed before OSHA issued guidelines for the meatpacking industry on dealing with the pandemic.

“This OSHA citation is wholly without merit and we plan to contest it,” Lombardo said.

The president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International, Mark Perrone, said the fine imposed by OSHA was insufficient.

“How much is the health, safety, and life of an essential worker worth? Based on the actions of the Trump Administration, clearly not much,” Marc Perrone said in a statement. “This so-called ‘fine’ is a slap on the wrist for Smithfield, and a slap in the face of the thousands of American meatpacking workers who have been putting their lives on the line to help feed America since the beginning of this pandemic.”

Smithfield along with Tyson Foods and Cargill closed facilities after they became virus hotspots.

In April, President Donald Trump declared meat-processing plants critical infrastructure and ordered them to continue operations.

Kerem Yucel/AFP via Getty Images

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