Investigators initially recommended fines and penalties of $139,500 for conditions involving the fatal accident at Tyson's River Valley Animal Foods plant.Curiously, the Kentucky Department of Labor described the penalty as "the largest occupational safety and health settlement in the state's history," because several other cases against Tyson were thrown into the mix, bringing the total to $184,515.
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."
James Allen Dame fell into a vat of decomposing chicken parts 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. The company killed three other workers that same year, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers Union:
On October 8, 1999, Charles Shepherd died from head trauma after a fall in the chiller room in the Berlin, Maryland Tyson plant. There were two fatalities at the company's Harrisonburg, Virginia poultry plant and two Tyson chicken catchers were killed during the summer, both from electrocution in chicken houses.For all of that, Tyson made the Corporate Crime Reporter's list of the nation's ten worst corporations in 1999 and the company earned a place as one of Sierra Club's "Ten Least Wanted" in 2002.
In February, 2000, Tyson's Henderson, Kentucky complex was slapped by Kentucky OSHA with a record-breaking $269,000 in fines from citations for 73 serious health and safety violations.
The stepson of James Allen Dame, one of the workers who died, said he was unhappy with the state settlement.Tyson is the largest poultry processing company in the U.S. with 50,000 employees at 59 plants.
"I don't think they paid enough," said Jared Durbin, 18.
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."
In addition to the company's $403 million profit in 2004,
John Tyson, chairman and CEO, was paid $1 million, with a $5.4 million bonus and $545,297 in other compensation, including a $2,000 holiday department-store gift card, $9,765 in medical reimbursement and $125,341 attributable to use of the company plane.