Family of meat factory worker sues owners over coronavirus death

Enock Benjamin died four days after a plant in Pennsylvania closed.

May 08, 2020, 3:23 PM

The family of a Pennsylvania meat factory worker who was killed by the coronavirus is suing the company, alleging his employer didn't provide him with protective equipment.

Enock Benjamin died from complications of the virus on April 3, just four days after the JBS slaughterhouse in Souderton, Pennsylvania, closed its doors because workers showed symptoms, according to the family's attorney, Robert J. Mongeluzzi.

Mongeluzzi said the factory had employees work in unsafe conditions with no protective equipment, which led to his client's sickness, adding in a statement: "JBS treated workers as expendable and placed them standing shoulder-to-shoulder without basic protective equipment such as masks. JBS placed profits over safety and must be held accountable."

The wrongful death suit filed in Philadelphia contends JBS failed to adhere to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about providing masks and PPE for employees. The suit claims the factory owners increased production in March to meet higher demand.

JBS didn't immediately return requests for comment from ABC News. On April 2, 19 employees at the Souderton plant contracted the virus, according to the lawsuit. The facility reopened April 20.

PHOTO: Enock Benjamin, who was a union shop steward at the JBS beef processing plant in Souderton, PA.
Enock Benjamin, who was a union shop steward at the JBS beef processing plant in Souderton, PA.
Courtesy Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky

"In a demonstration of placing profits over safety, the JBS Defendants ignored the health of vulnerable workers and did not shut any plants prior to March 30, 2020, despite a mountain of evidence of a public safety concern of unforeseen magnitude," attorneys said in the filing.

Benjamin, who was the union chief steward of the plant, first began experiencing symptoms March 27, after several coworkers began showing symptoms, the suit said.

He left behind his wife of 37 years, Mirielle, two children, Debbie and Ferdinand "Cabo," and a granddaughter.

PHOTO: In this Feb. 26, 2017, file photo, a logo sign outside of JBS USA Holdings, Inc., meat packing plant in Souderton, Penn., is shown.
In this Feb. 26, 2017, file photo, a logo sign outside of JBS USA Holdings, Inc., meat packing plant in Souderton, Penn., is shown.
Kristoffer Tripplaar /Sipa via AP, FILE

The suit doesn't specify the amount in compensation the family is seeking.

Representatives from UFCW Local 1776, Benjamin's union, didn't immediately return messages seeking comment. President Wendell Young told ABC affiliate WPVI that the plant owners should have been more cautious.

"If you need PPE and you don't have it, you don't allow your people to go to work," he said.

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