Plant Managers Bet on COVID Cases, Lawsuit Alleges

More than one-third of the workforce contracted the virus; at least five died.

Update: Tyson said Thursday it has suspended without pay the managers implicated in the complaint.

The son of a Tyson Foods employee who died of COVID-19 complications has filed a lawsuit against the company that includes a number of major allegations regarding worker safety at its pork processing facility in Waterloo, Iowa.

More than 1,000 Waterloo workers — over one-third of its total headcount — contracted the virus this past spring, and at least five died.

Among the allegations is a claim that Tyson’s Waterloo plant manager organized a cash buy-in, winner-take-all betting pool for supervisors and managers to bet on how many employees would test positive for COVID-19.

But there’s much, much more.

The lawsuit, filed Nov. 11, begins by alleging that Tyson Foods engaged in “fraudulent misrepresentations, gross negligence, and incorrigible, willful and wanton disregard for worker safety” at the plant, adding that management forced employees to work long hours in cramped conditions while not providing appropriate PPE and failing to ensure social distancing.

Here are some of the other allegations the lawsuit:

  • An upper-level plant manager explicitly directed supervisors to ignore symptoms of the virus and told workers to show up even if they had symptoms, with that manager reportedly referring to COVID-19 as the "glorified flu" and telling workers "it’s not a big deal."
  • Managers reportedly allowed an employee to continue working after he vomited on the production line and allowed him to return to work the next day.
  • Managers reportedly began avoiding the plant floor in late March or early April out of fear of contracting the virus themselves, delegating responsibilities to low-level supervisors.
  • Plant supervisors reportedly falsely denied that the plant had any confirmed virus cases in March and April and told workers it was their responsibility to keep working to ensure Americans didn’t go hungry due to a shutdown.

The lawsuit also said that Tyson’s $500 “thank-you bonuses” paid to production workers who worked every scheduled shift for three months was a policy decision that incentivized sick workers to continue reporting for work.

In response to the allegations, Tyson said Thursday that it has suspended without pay the managers allegedly involved, and has retained a law firm to conduct an independent investigation led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The company said, "If these claims are confirmed, we’ll take all measures necessary to root out and remove this disturbing behavior from our company."

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