News & Opinion | November 20, 2020 7:00 am

Report: Tyson Foods Managers Bet on Employees Getting COVID-19

A lawsuit alleges harrowing conditions and horrifying behavior at a meat processing plant

Tyson Foods chicken drumsticks
Packages of Tyson brand chicken products are displayed in the refrigerator section of an Associated Supermarket.
Ramin Talaie/Corbis via Getty Images

If you’re the manager of a workplace dealing with COVID-19, what’s the worst possible way you could respond to an outbreak among your employees? In their report on a wrongful death lawsuit, the Iowa Capital Dispatch covered some shocking allegations featured within it — specifically, that supervisors at a pork processing plant placed bets on the number of employees there who would fall ill with the coronavirus.

Isidro Fernandez was one of the workers at a Tyson Foods plant in Waterloo, Iowa who died after contracting COVID-19. His family has sued Tyson Foods; recently, they updated their lawsuit to reflect new information, which includes some genuinely shocking details.

The lawsuit alleges that Tyson did not provide its employees with adequate PPE and kept them working in close quarters with one another, creating an environment where the coronavirus could easily spread.

The article describes another new detail from the lawsuit: that the plant’s manager “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.”

The lawsuit also contends that Tyson Foods’ policy of paying bonuses to workers who showed up for all of their shifts for three consecutive months gave workers an incentive to go into work even when they might have been feeling ill, creating yet another way for the coronavirus to spread.

Tyson Foods released a statement on Thursday expressing its plan of action. “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,” it read in part. “If these claims are confirmed, we’ll take all measures necessary to root out and remove this disturbing behavior from our company.”

The lawsuit is currently in progress in federal court.

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