Lawsuit: Tyson managers in Iowa bet on how many workers would get COVID-19

Coronavirus

In this May 1, 2020, file photo, a sign sits in front of the Tyson Foods plant in Waterloo, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, file)

UPDATE: Tyson has issued a statement in response, but did not address the specific claims filed in the lawsuit, CBS News reports.

“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 statement went on to outline some of the measures they have taken since January. You can read the full list at CBS News.

EARLIER UPDATE: A lawsuit alleges a manager at a Tyson plant in Waterloo organized “a cash-buy-in, winner-take-all, betting pool for supervisors and managers to wager how many plant employees would test positive for COVID-19” while ordering employees to report to work, according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch.

The family of Isidro Fernandez, a Waterloo man who died on April 26 from COVID-19, filed the lawsuit on November 11, which alleges Tyson Foods is guilty of a “willful and wanton disregard for workplace safety.”

According to the Black Hawk County Health Department, more than 1,000 employees at the Waterloo plant contracted the virus and at least five died.

Among the allegations cited in the Iowa Capital Dispatch report:

+ In mid-April, around the time Black Hawk County Sherriff 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, betting pool for supervisors and managers to wager how many plant employees would test positive for COVID-19.

+ John Casey, an upper-level manager at the plant, is alleged to have 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 reportedly 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.” On one occasion, Casey intercepted a sick supervisor who was on his way to be tested and ordered him to get back to work, saying, “We all have symptoms — you have a job to do.” After one employee vomited on the production line, managers reportedly allowed the man to continue working and then return to work the next day.

+ In late March or early April, as the pandemic spread across Iowa, managers at the Waterloo plant reportedly 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. The supervisors did not require truck drivers and subcontractors to have their temperatures checked before entering the plant.

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

+ Tyson paid out $500 “thank you bonuses” to employees who turned up for every scheduled shift for three months — a policy decision that allegedly incentivized sick workers to continue reporting for work.

+ Tyson executives allegedly lobbied Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds for COVID-19 liability protections that would shield the company from lawsuits, and successfully lobbied the governor to declare that only the state government, not local governments, had the authority to close businesses in response to the pandemic.

Iowa Capital Dispatch

Read the entire report at IowaCapitalDispatch.com. The non-profit news site covers state government and politics and is staffed by veteran journalists from the Des Moines Register, Quad-City Times and other outlets.

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