Family of Pennsylvania meat processing plant worker files wrongful death lawsuit

SOUDERTON, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- The family of a meat processing plant worker who died of COVID-19 has sued the company and several affiliates, saying his death was the result of negligence in responding to the epidemic.

The wrongful death lawsuit filed in Philadelphia on Thursday concerns Enock Benjamin, who was a union shop steward at the JBS beef processing plant in Souderton, the largest facility of its kind east of Chicago.

It says he died of respiratory failure related to COVID-19 on April 3.

The lawsuit claims JBS was slow to provide personal protective equipment or to arrange its more than 1,000 workers far enough apart to avoid contagion.

"This lawsuit is to hold the accountable for cutting corners, and valuing profits over people," said Attorney Robert Mongeluzzi.

He says Benjamin and other workers were not provided personal protective equipment (PPE), were forced to work side by side, and even extra shifts.

"So, they could increase capacity, increase profits without caring about worker safety," Mongeluzzi said.

According to Mongeluzzi, proving where Benjamin caught COVID-19 will be hard to prove.

Benjamin was shop steward in Local 1776, a union of 35,000 members that represents employees in many industries including meat packing.

"I do think its hard to fault JBS," said Wendell Young, president of Local 1776.

Young is defending JBS. He says while the company wasn't perfect in its response to the outbreak, government guidance to protect workers was evolving in early March, and PPE was difficult to obtain.

He says JBS shut the plant down for two weeks once there were just two confirmed cases in late March.

"They didn't wait until there were 200 workers, or 300 workers or 900 workers like elsewhere in the country," Young said.

Mongeluzzi defended the suit, saying, "if you need PPE and you don't have it, you don't allow your people to go to work."

Mongeluzzi wouldn't say how much the family is seeking in compensation.

JBS has not returned multiple emails and phone calls for comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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