Lawsuit alleges Tyson food plant managers bet on how many employees would contract coronavirus

tyson lawsuit managers bet on employees catching coronavirus waterloo iowa
Photo via U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr (Public Domain Mark 1.0)

New allegations from a previously-filed lawsuit in Iowa state court accused managers at a Tyson Foods pork processing plant of placing bets on how many of its employees would contract coronavirus. That item is now part of a Tyson lawsuit filed on behalf of the family of a worker who died of COVID-19 complications in April.

According to the Iowa Capital Dispatch, the wrongful death lawsuit alleges that Tyson Foods ordered employees to report for work in Waterloo, Iowa while supervisors privately wagered money on the number of workers who would become sick as a result of catching COVID-19. The suit was filed by family members of the late Isidro Fernandez. His family claims that he caught coronavirus at the facility as a result of Tyson’s “willful and wanton disregard for workplace safety.”

CBS News reported that, according to court records, Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson advised the company to shut down the Waterloo plant, and the documents quote Thompson as saying the plant’s working conditions “shook him to the core.” Thousands of other meatpacking workers around the country were infected with the coronavirus due to their working conditions.

The suit alleges that Tyson did not shut the plant down upon receiving the warning, but instead, a plant manager turn it into a game. As the lawsuit states, “Around this time, Defendant Tom Hart, the Plant Manager of the Waterloo facility, organized a cash buy-in, winner-take-all betting pool for supervisors and managers to wager how many employees would test positive for COVID-19.”

Defendants in the suit, in addition to Hart, include Tyson Foods Chairman John Tyson, CEO Noel White, President Dean Banks, President Stephen Stouffer, and a variety of other managers.

The CBS story noted that on April 12, about two dozen employees were admitted into the local emergency room. That week, the plant was temporarily closed.

Fernandez died April 26.

The lawsuit notes that, following that closing, Casey “explicitly directed supervisors to ignore symptoms of COVID-19.” According to the suit, Casey “told supervisors [they] had to show up to work, even if they were exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, and he directed supervisors to make their direct reports come to work, even if those direct reports were showing symptoms of COVID-19.” It even alleges that Casey stopped a sick supervisor en route to getting a coronavirus test, directing him back to work by saying, “We all have symptoms. You have a job to do.”

The Washington Post included a statement from Tyson that, while not engaging with the lawsuit directly, appears to refute some of what the lawsuit contends. “We’re saddened by the loss of any Tyson team member and sympathize with their families,” Tyson Foods spokesman Gary Mickelson said. “Our top priority is the health and safety of our workers and we’ve implemented a host of protective measures at Waterloo and our other facilities that meet or exceed CDC and OSHA guidance for preventing COVID-19.”

Additionally, a spokesperson for the company, declining to comment directly on the lawsuit, discussed new precautions instituted by Tyson at the Waterloo plant after the April shutdown. Those included walk-through temperature scanners, workstation dividers, masks, and social distance monitoring.

Sources: Iowa Capital Dispatch, CBS News, Washington Post

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