Why it's irrational for businesses to protect workers against Covid

Granted, workers will get sick, and some will die. That's ... distasteful. But Donald Trump's OSHA doesn't intend to punish the companies responsible.

X5 sDrive40i

Smithfield got a lot of terrible publicity last spring for a horrific Covid outbreak at its Sioux Falls, S.D. pork processing plant. Then it got more terrible publicity for trying to block an OSHA investigation. Now OSHA has fined Smithfield Foods (annual revenue: about $15 billion) a big $13,494.

I’ve seen some discussion on Twitter about how $13,494 really is all OSHA is permitted to collect. That’s what OSHA itself is saying in its own defense. But it’s nonsense. As recently as four years ago OSHA, under President Donald Trump, fined a Wisconsin shipyard you never heard of, with about $23 million in annual revenue, no less than $1.4 million for “multiple egregious” violations of lead safety standards.

It’s true that OSHA’s hands were tied in this instance, and that as a result it couldn’t fine Smithfield more than $14k. But ask yourself who it was that tied OSHA’s hands. OSHA did, probably at the behest of the Trump White House. It did this by not issuing the “emergency temporary standard” that labor unions and congressional Democrats practically begged it to enact last spring. Instead, OSHA chose to police Covid violations through something called the general duty clause, about which all you have to know is that it’s a notoriously weak enforcement tool, seldom resorted to even by the enforcement-averse Trump OSHA. Which was the point.

My latest, for the New Republic. The photograph you see here is of the new BMW X5. The amount that OSHA has fined a grand total of three companies since March for Covid violations would not be enough, combined, to buy you that Beemer.