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Lawsuit Claims Tyson Execs Wager on Variety of COVID-19 Circumstances

Managers forced employees to report to work with symptoms of COVID-19 and bet on number of cases.

The family of Isidro Fernandez, who contracted a fatal case of COVID-19, filed a wrongful death lawsuit earlier this year after learning his supervisors at Tyson Foods ordered employees to continue reporting to work while they bet on how many would become ill.  They did so despite the fact that officials knew the dangers associated with the coronavirus – to the point they became concerned with their own health and reassigned responsibilities to limit exposure.  The lawsuit alleges Tyson Foods “is guilty of a willful and wanton disregard for workplace safety.”

Fernandez passed away on April 20 and was one of five Waterloo plant employees who died after being sickened with the virus.  According to the Black Hawk County Health Department, “more than 1,000 workers at the plant (over a third of the facility’s workforce) contracted COVID-19.”

The lawsuit claims “despite the uncontrolled spread of the virus at the plant, Tyson required its employees to work long hours in cramped conditions without providing the appropriate personal protective equipment and without ensuring workplace-safety measures were followed.”

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

An amendment filed later details even more allegations against the company, including, in part:

“In mid-April, around the time Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson visited the plant and reported the working conditions there ‘shook him to the core,’ plant manager Tom Hart organized a cash-buy-in, winner-take-all, pool for supervisors and managers to bet on how many plant employees would test positive for COVID-19;

John Casey, a manager at the plant, explicitly directed supervisors to ignore symptoms of COVID-19, telling them to show up to work even if they were exhibiting symptoms of the virus.  Casey referred to COVID-19 as ‘the glorified flu’ and told workers not to worry about it because ‘it’s not a big deal’ and ‘everyone is going to get it’;

In late March or early April, managers 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;

In March and April, plant supervisors falsely denied the existence of any confirmed cases or positive tests for COVID-19 within the plant, and told workers they had a responsibility to keep working to ensure Americans didn’t go hungry as the result of a shutdown;

Tyson executives lobbied Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds for COVID-19 liability protections that would shield the company from lawsuits.”

Tyson responded to the allegations, stating it “vigorously disputes the plaintiffs’ claims in this case” and adding that it has “worked from the very beginning of the pandemic to follow federal workplace guidelines and has invested millions of dollars to provide employees with safety and risk-mitigation equipment.”

A statement submitted in respond to the amended suit reads, “We’re saddened by the loss of any Tyson team member and sympathize with their families.  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 lawsuit is seeking damages for “fraudulent misrepresentation” and “gross negligence.”

Sources:

Managers at Tyson meat plant had betting pool on how many workers would get Covid, lawsuit alleges

Lawsuit: Tyson managers bet money on how many workers would contract COVID-19

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