Tyson Foods has been embroiled in controversy since April when supervisors for the company chose to keep a meat-processing plant in Waterloo, Iowa, open despite a surge in employees testing positive for COVID-19. The plant was forced to shut down after more than 1,000 employees tested positive for coronavirus infection. After several of those employees died, a lawsuit was filed by the son of one of the deceased employees alleging that Tyson Foods failed to protect its workers. Recently, that lawsuit was amended to include a claim that company supervisors placed bets on how many employees would catch the virus.
The Washington Post reports that Oscar Fernandez—son of Waterloo facility employee Isidro Fernandez, who died on April 26 of complications related to COVID-19—filed a wrongful death lawsuit in August, claiming that Tyson Foods “required its employees to work long hours in cramped conditions” and “failed to provide appropriate personal protective equipment and failed to implement sufficient social distancing or safety measures to protect workers from the outbreak.”
On November 11, the suit was amended to include allegations that one of the Waterloo plant managers, Tom Hart, “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.”
Besides Hart, the lawsuit names a shit load of defendants.
From CBS News:
The suit claims Tyson managers engaged in “fraudulent misrepresentations, gross negligence and incorrigible, willful and wanton disregard for worker safety.”
Defendants include Tyson Foods Chairman John Tyson, CEO Noel White, President Dean Banks, President Stephen Stouffer, Vice President Tom Brower, Manager Tom Hart, Safety Lead Bret Tapken and managers Cody Brustkern and John Casey. Court records show that Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson advised the company to shut the Waterloo plant, but it didn’t. Thompson said the plant’s working conditions “shook him to the core,” according to the documents.
According to CBS, another amendment to the suit claimed Casey “explicitly directed supervisors to ignore symptoms of COVID-19.”
“Mr. 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,” the lawsuit states. “On one occasion, Mr. Casey intercepted a sick supervisor en-route to get tested and ordered the supervisor to get back to work, adding, ‘We all have symptoms. You have a job to do.’”
According to the Iowa Capital Dispatch, those allegations are just the tip of the iceberg.
From the Dispatch:
- In late March or early April, as the pandemic spread across Iowa, managers at the Waterloo plant reportedly began avoiding the plant floor for fear of contracting the virus. As a result, they increasingly delegated managerial authority and responsibilities to low-level supervisors who had no management training or experience. The supervisors did not require truck drivers and subcontractors to have their temperatures checked before entering the plant.
- In March and April, plant supervisors falsely denied the existence of any confirmed cases or positive tests for COVID-19 within the plant, and allegedly told workers they had a responsibility to keep working to ensure Americans didn’t go hungry as the result of a shutdown.
- Tyson paid out $500 “thank you bonuses” to employees who turned up for every scheduled shift for three months — a policy decision that allegedly incentivized sick workers to continue reporting for work.
- Tyson executives allegedly lobbied Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds for COVID-19 liability protections that would shield the company from lawsuits, and successfully lobbied the governor to declare that only the state government, not local governments, had the authority to close businesses in response to the pandemic.
CBS reports that Tyson Foods declined to speak on the new allegations including that of the bet on how many employees would be infected.
“We’re saddened by the loss of any Tyson team member and sympathize with their families,” the company said in a statement. “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.”
The company claimed that “while we’ll pass on specifically addressing the amended lawsuit,” it has done plenty to keep employees safe, including forming a “coronavirus task force” to educate “team members about the virus.”
In the statement, the company also appeared to make excuses for its perceived negligence, claiming that “for weeks, the Black Hawk County Health Department (BHCHD) declined to share information with our company about Tyson team members with COVID-19.”