SIOUX CITY -- Three former workers have sued a Sioux City pork processor that, they say, fired them in retaliation for filing a complaint about working conditions and talking to investigators.
Luis Aceves, Jose Moreno and Jose Magana said Northwest Iowa Pork fired them on Sept. 13, soon after the Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration had informed the company that it had found no violations at the plant.
"As soon as it did, NWIP turned around and immediately fired Mr. Aceves and two of his co-workers," according to three separate lawsuits filed last week in Woodbury County District Court.
A plant manager had observed them a day earlier banging boxes on a roller table in the plant's packaging area, a practice the three men said was common among all workers, including some who had been promoted to supervisory positions.
While leaving the packaging area, the manager, according to Aceves' suit, walked past him and said, "That takes care of them."
The three men said they were told when they were fired that banging the boxes was a violation of company policies and they had damaged company property. The three said in the suit that they had never been reprimanded for the action before and, to their knowledge, no workers had ever been warned, disciplined or fired for doing it.
A company official did not return a message seeking comment.
Aceves had filed a complaint in June 2018 with Iowa Division of Labor's Whistleblower Protection Division in which he said Northwest Iowa Pork, a division of Itoham America Inc., did not provide workers with protective eye wear, required workers to stand on cold floors without mats, and failed to address workers' repetitive injuries. Aceves also raised concerns about the company's handling of on-the-job injuries.
Aceves said in his lawsuit that he had reported his concerns to supervisors numerous times, but they were never addressed.
Iowa OSHA investigators visited the plant at 2640 Murray St. in July and returned two weeks later for follow-up interviews with certain workers, including Moreno and Magana.
After the OSHA visits, Aceves, Moreno and Magana said in their lawsuits, a supervisor began following them, standing near them to monitor their work and timing their visits to the restroom. That same supervisor later told them the company was looking for a reason to fire them, according to the lawsuits.
After they were fired, the three filed complaints with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, which issued them right-to-sue letters in May. The three are seeking back pay and future wages, lost and future benefits, compensatory damages and punitive damages.