Tyson Managers Suspended After Allegedly Betting If Workers Would Contract COVID

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A lawsuit filed by the family of a former Tyson employee who died of COVID-19 complications alleges company supervisors were instructed by high level officials to falsely deny the existence of «confirmed cases» or «positive tests» as early as March.

Charlie Neibergall/AP

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Charlie Neibergall/AP

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It’s one of several Tyson facilities that has experienced severe outbreaks of the coronavirus which has caused some to temporarily shut down. Since the start of the pandemic, according to court filings, more than 1,000 employees at the Waterloo facility have been infected with COVID-19.

As of May about 4,600 cases of the disease and 18 deaths have been linked to Tyson Foods, Business Insider reported.

According to the court documents, company supervisors were instructed by the defendants to falsely deny the existence of «confirmed cases» or «positive tests» within the Waterloo facility as early as March.

The top brass also allegedly told workers «they had a responsibility to keep working in order to ensure Americans don’t go hungry.»

The plaintiffs say managers also continued transferring employees between plants after some had tested positive for the coronavirus without requiring them to quarantine.

Between March and mid-April Tyson leaders declined to shut down the plant despite multiple pleas from county officials, including Sheriff Tony Thompson who said conditions at the facility «shook [him] to the core,» the documents allege.

«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,» the lawsuit states.

Meanwhile, employees complained to Waterloo health care providers that they did not have sufficient personal protective equipment and that social distancing guidelines were ignored on the plant floor and in employee locker rooms. They also said under-resourced nurses could not accurately conduct temperature checks. And non-English speaking employees mistakenly believed they could return to work while sick.

«At least one worker at the facility vomited on the production line and management allowed him to continue working and return to work the next day,» lawyers for Fernandez’ family said.

Tyson also offered $500 «thank you bonuses» to employees who turned up for every scheduled shift for three months, the filings say.

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Orders to refrain from disrupting plant operations apparently extended beyond floor workers to supervisors.

Manager John Casey explicitly directed supervisors to ignore signs of illness, «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,» according to the lawsuit.

«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.’ «

In his statement Thursday, Bank said Tyson has invested «hundreds of millions of dollars to transform our U.S. facilities, including the Waterloo plant.»

The company has implemented «walk-through temperature scanners and workstation dividers to social distance monitors and always-on testing,» he said.

Tyson eventually suspended work at the Waterloo plant on April 22, 10 days after two dozen employees were admitted into a local emergency room.

Court documents say that as early as March, high level executives began lobbying White House officials, including President Trump and Vice President Pence, and other members of Congress for protection from COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

They simultaneously lobbied Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, successfully lobbying her to issue an executive order stating that only the state government, not local governments, had the authority to close businesses in northeast Iowa, where the Waterloo facility is located.

  • meat processing
  • Tyson Foods Inc.
  • COVID-19
  • coronavirus
  • Iowa


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