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Tyson Foods' settlement in worker deaths called a "slap on the wrist"

June 24, 2005
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Tyson Foods, the nation’s largest poultry company, has agreed to pay the state of Kentucky $60,000 to resolve a safety case that investigators say led to the deaths of two workers at its animal feed plant in Robards, Ky., according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Investigators initially recommended fines and penalties of $139,500 for conditions involving the fatal accident at Tyson's River Valley Animal Foods plant.

Labor Commissioner Phil Anderson said he believes the settlement amount was appropriate and will lead to improved safety at the Tyson plant.

"I don't believe we caved," said Anderson. "We wanted to get it out of the way and get it settled because it was an ongoing drain of our time and effort."

In addition to closing this case, the state settled with Tyson on five others, bringing the total to $184,515, the largest occupational safety and health settlement in the state's history, according to the Kentucky Department of Labor.

The stepson of James Allen Dame, one of the workers who died, said he was unhappy with the state settlement.

"I don't think they paid enough," said Jared Durbin, 18.

In July 1999 Dame fell into a vat of liquid while trying to retrieve a broken scoop. Co-worker Mike Hallum was lowered in to rescue him. Both men were overcome by methane gas and died, investigators said.

State officials said the settlement involved six cases with about 40 citations, which were cut by about a third from the initial number.

In a statement, Tyson said the settlement "significantly reduced the number and degree of citations against the company and also cut the penalty that will be paid."

Bruce Finley, a retired union organizer for Local 227 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union who organized workers at the Tyson plant, said the settlement "seemed like a slap on the wrist and not a penalty that would modify a corporation's behavior."

Tyson's profits in 2004 were $403 million, according to company filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

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