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Lawsuit: After 9 Deaths and 400 Infections at Foster Farms’ Meatpacking Plant, Restraining Order Needed to Protect Workers and Merced County

Today, the United Farm Workers (UFW) announced the filing of a lawsuit that includes a request for an immediate temporary restraining order to force Foster Farms’ chicken processing plant in Livingston, California to comply with clear COVID safety rules that the company has refused to follow despite nine workers at the plant dying and over four hundred becoming infected. The filing comes on the heels of the announcement by Merced County health officials that the Livingston Plant suffered a second outbreak this month, which is still ongoing.

Since at least this summer, Foster Farms has been aware of COVID infections and deaths at its Livingston plant but refused to follow even basic and legally required state and national safety guidelines.  For example, the company has failed to create six feet of distance between workers who are required to work on lines for hours at a time, failed in many cases to provide adequate masks, and failed to adequately inform workers of sick leave options. These failures come even after Foster Farms was forced by Merced County to shut down its facility in August and only allowed to reopen on the condition the company comply with safety guidelines.

“Foster Farms is using its corporate and political power to avoid compliance with safety rules and the results are literally deadly for employees and for Merced County residents,” said Erika Navarrete of UFW. “Employees at Foster Farms deserve a workplace that follows basic safety guidelines and places workers’ long-term health above short-term profits. After months of the company’s half-measures and hundreds of infections, only court action can protect workers and Merced County residents from Foster Farms’ dangerous practices.”

The first outbreak took place in June, prompting Merced County to issue a directive in early August requiring the company to comply with state guidelines. By late August, the company had not complied with state guidelines and eight workers had died, prompting Merced County to shut down the plant on September 1. By that point, Foster Farms accounted for nearly 20% of all virus deaths in Merced County under 65 years old and 40% of deaths in Livingston. 

The plant reopened on September 7, but the company continued to ignore state health guidelines regarding distancing and protective gear. In total, over four hundred workers have become infected, nine have died, and an unknown number of Merced County residents have been infected or died—all before the second outbreak was declared on December 3.

UFW’s lawsuit was filed in Superior Court of California in Merced County. The UFW simultaneously filed a motion for a temporary restraining order to force Foster Farms to comply with basic state and local rules. The suit does not seek to close the plant but instead asks the court to force Foster Farms to operate the plant safely and in accordance with guidance the CDC has issued for meatpacking plants.

The Complaint and application for a temporary restraining order are available here: 

Press Contact: Elizabeth Strater