Tyson Foods Lawsuit Alleges Managers Devised Betting Pool Over Employees Contracting COVID-19
A wrongful death lawsuit has been brought against Tyson Foods by the family of a deceased employee who allegedly contracted coronavirus while working at the company’s Iowa facility. The suit alleges managers at the plant created a betting pool, wagering money over how many employees would become infected by coronavirus.
The complaint alleges the managers’ actions highlight the company’s wanton and willful disregard for workplace safety, claiming that Tyson failed to provide enough PPE and encouraged symptomatic and sick employees to continue working at the plant.
Isidro Fernandez, the employee whose family filed the wrongful death lawsuit, was infected by the virus while working at the Tyson facility in Waterloo, Iowa. He succumbed to coronavirus complications on April 26. Fernandez’s son filed an initial lawsuit in August, alleging that the managers at the facility minimized the potential hazards of COVID-19 to workers, and compelled those who were sick to continue working. The Iowa Capital Dispatch reported that an amended complaint was filed on Wednesday, which included the allegations of the betting pool.
The lawsuit states, “Despite an uncontrolled COVID-19 outbreak, Tyson required its employees to work long hours in cramped conditions…Moreover, despite the danger of COVID-19, Tyson failed to provide appropriate personal protective equipment and failed to implement sufficient social distancing or safety measures to protect workers from the outbreak.”
The suit contends that over 1000 employees became infected with the coronavirus, and five, including Fernandez, perished. According to the new allegations, the plant’s manager, 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.”
John Casey, another manager, allegedly instructed supervisors to continue working, and to direct their staff to do likewise. He reportedly told the employees to ignore any coronavirus symptoms, equating the virus to a “glorified flu.”
The corporation kept the Waterloo facility open despite pushback from local officials during the early weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak. In April, Tony Thompson, Sheriff of Black Hawk County, publicly asserted concern regarding the plant remaining open amid the pandemic.
It was reportedly around the same time when the betting pool was established. Tyson has since suspended all employees who were allegedly involved in the betting pool.
The Iowa Capital Dispatch reported that one factor influencing Tyson’s decision to keep its plants opened in the midst of the pandemic was the directive initiated by President Donald Trump. In April, Trump declared meatpacking plants “essential.”
Dean Banks, Tyson Foods CEO and president, released a statement on Thursday:
“We expect every team member at Tyson Foods to operate with the utmost integrity and care in everything we do. If these claims are confirmed, we’ll take all measures necessary to root out and remove this disturbing behavior from our company.”
The law firm Covington & Burling has been commissioned by the company to undertake an independent investigation that will be headed by former Attorney General, Eric Holder.
Marc Perrone, the president of the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) decried the allegations of misconduct, noting, “This shocking report of supervisors allegedly taking bets on how many workers would get infected, pressuring sick workers to stay on the job, and failing to enforce basic safety standards, should outrage every American.”
He further stated, “Without immediate action, deadly outbreaks like this will quickly spread across the Midwest and cause COVID-19 cases to spike even higher. Our country’s meatpacking workers, and the millions of Americans they serve, deserve, and expect better from those sworn to protect us.”
A Tyson spokesperson issued a statement in the Iowa Capital Dispatch, declaring the company was “saddened by the loss of any Tyson team member and sympathize[s] with their families.”
The wrongful death suit seeks “punitive damages in an amount sufficient to punish the defendants for their egregious, life-threatening misconduct, and to deter similar misconduct in the future.”
Tyson’s Waterloo facility is the largest pork plant in the US. The plant accounts for 5% of the country’s pork production, processing 19,500 units daily.