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Missouri Pork Plant Workers Say They Can’t Cover Mouths to Cough

A lawsuit filed against a Smithfield Foods plant claims it has created a public nuisance by failing to protect workers from coronavirus infection.

Workers at a Smithfield Foods pork plant in Milan, Mo., say that for years they have endured repetitive stress injuries on the meat processing line — and urinary tract infections because they had so few bathroom breaks.

But as the coronavirus pandemic has emerged, workers say they have encountered another health complication: reluctance to cover their mouths while coughing or to clean their faces after sneezing, because this can cause them to miss a piece of meat as it goes by, creating a risk of disciplinary action.

The claims appear in a complaint filed Thursday in federal court by an anonymous Smithfield worker and the Rural Community Workers Alliance, a local advocacy group whose leadership council includes several other Smithfield workers.

The complaint also seeks to test a novel legal question: whether health hazards at the plant present a public nuisance.

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