Waterloo, Iowa (WorkersCompensation.com) – Tyson Foods has suspended managers and other officials at its facility in Waterloo, Iowa after allegations arose that the supervisors and managers were betting on how many employees would test positive for COVID-19.
Tyson President and CEO Dean Banks said in a statement that the supervisors and managers have been suspended pending an investigation.
“We are extremely upset about the accusations involving some of the leadership at our Waterloo plant,” his statement reads. “We have suspended, without pay, the individuals allegedly involved and have retained the law firm Covington & Burling LLP to conduct an independent investigation led by former Attorney General Eric Holder. If these claims are confirmed, we’ll take all measures necessary to root out and remove this disturbing behavior from our company.”
Banks said the company expects all of its team members to “operate with the utmost integrity and care in everything we do.”
According to the Iowa Capital Dispatch, the allegations were part of amendments to a wrongful death lawsuit by the family of Isidro Fernandez. Fernandez’s family sued the company, alleging that he was exposed to COVID-19 at the plant, and that Tyson was guilty of “willful and wanton disregard for workplace safety.”
Fernandez died from complications of COVID on April 26. His family filed suit in early August.
According to the Dispatch, the family’s amended lawsuit alleges that during the initial phase of the pandemic, Tyson Food ordered its employees to come to work. At the same time, the lawsuit said, supervisors were wagering money on how many workers would get sick.
The lawsuit said that plant manager Tom Hart organized a “cash buy-in, winner-take-all betting pool” on how many employees would test positive for COVID-19; that John Casey, an upper-level manager, is said to have directed supervisors to ignore the symptoms of COVID-19; that when the pandemic began to spread through Iowa, managers at the Waterloo plant avoided going onto the floor of the plant for fear of contracting the virus; and that the company incentivized employees to come to work sick by offering a $500 bonus to employees who did not miss a scheduled shift for three months.
Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, called out the plant for “stunning safety failures.”
“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,” Perrone said in a statement.
According to the Associated Press, at the same time the betting was going on, local officials were pressuring Tyson officials to shut down in order to slow the spread of the disease. The company argues that it needed to stay open and continue processing nearly 20,000 pigs a day in order to maintain the meat supply to the country and provide a market to farmers.
More than 1,000 of the plant’s 2,800 workers ultimately tested positive, and six died. Tyson moved the case from state courts to federal court, due to protections it hopes it will receive under President Donald Trump’s invocation of the Defense Production Act which ordered meat and poultry processing companies to remain in operation.
According to the A.P., Tyson has asked the federal judge to dismiss the case, arguing that the family’s legal remedy is through the state’s workers’ compensation system. Tyson lawyers also argue that no one has proven that Fernandez contracted the disease at the plant and not elsewhere in Waterloo.
In Black Hawk County, where Waterloo is located, public health officials had counted more than 10,600 cases of COVID-19 as of Nov. 25, and 131 deaths.