Tyson Managers (Allegedly) Ran Betting Pool On How Many Pork Plant Workers Would Get COVID-19
Managers at a Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Waterloo, Iowa, allegedly bet on how many employees would contract COVID-19, according to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the son of a Tyson employee who died in April. The lawsuit accuses Tyson management of engaging in "fraudulent misrepresentations, gross negligence and incorrigible, willful and wanton disregard for worker safety" that led to the April 26 death of plant employee Isidro Fernandez.
Tyson Foods President and CEO Dean Banks, who's one of multiple Tyson executives and managers named in the lawsuit, announced Thursday that the managers accused of running the betting pool have been suspended without pay, and that the company was launching an investigation into the claims, to be led by former US Attorney General Eric Holder. In a statement, Banks called the alleged behavior "disturbing," and said the company is "extremely upset about the accusations involving some of the leadership at our Waterloo plant." You know it's a very sincere statement of concern because the statement's heading reads, "Team member actions not aligned with company's core values." Core values, folks, with a link in the statement to the company's CORE VALUES page.
According to the lawsuit, the defendants told supervisors at the plant to falsely deny there were any "confirmed cases" or "positive tests" at the plant in March.
The top brass also allegedly told workers "they had a responsibility to keep working in order to ensure Americans don't go hungry."
The plaintiffs say managers also continued transferring employees between plants after some had tested positive for the coronavirus without requiring them to quarantine.
As the pandemic worsened in March and April, the plant stayed open, even after Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson advised the company to shut it down, saying that working conditions there "shook him to the core." But wait, there's more!
[Employees complained] to Waterloo health care providers that they did not have sufficient personal protective equipment and that social distancing guidelines were ignored on the plant floor and in employee locker rooms. They also said under-resourced nurses could not accurately conduct temperature checks. And non-English speaking employees mistakenly believed they could return to work while sick.
"At least one worker at the facility vomited on the production line and management allowed him to continue working and return to work the next day," lawyers for Fernandez' family said.
Tyson also offered $500 "thank you bonuses" to employees who turned up for every scheduled shift for three months, the filings say.
But let's not forget all the gambling fun, because what good is a story of horrifying negligence without a little gratuitous cruelty mixed in?
"Around this time, Defendant Tom Hart, the Plant Manager of the Waterloo facility, organized a cash buy-in, winner-take-all betting pool for supervisors and managers to wager how many employees would test positive for COVID-19," the lawsuit says.
In what seems a disappointing failure to put in the journalistic legwork, none of the stories we looked at said which lucky manager took the pot. CNN does note that the suit claims that by late March or early April, "most managers at the Waterloo Facility started avoiding the plant floor because they were afraid of contracting the virus," and that they handed off their duties to "low-level supervisors with no management training or experience," which certainly seems to indicate the managers were committed to the health and safety of all Tyson employees who were themselves.
The suit also alleges that while all this was going on, Tyson executives went to Washington DC to lobby the White House to let the meatpacking industry keep operating, without too many dumb disease-prevention measures that might slow down production. In late April, Donald Trump did indeed issue a Hereby Declare order that the killing floors must keep going, to feed a nation that needed its meat sweats.
The suit also says Tyson "successfully lobbied, or directed others to lobby Gov. [Kim] Reynolds to issue an executive order stating that only state government, not local governments, had the authority to close businesses," which only makes sense, because what if local governments had too many weak-willed Democrats who refused to see that business must keep going?
In conclusion, we hope the Fernandez family and other families of the workers who were sickened and killed by irresponsible food processing companies get a huge payout, because goddamn, that's only right.
And don't forget, all this casual disregard for workers' health and safety is why Republicans demand that any new stimulus bill include a big fat liability shield for corporate America. All the coming liability lawsuits might hold executives and managers responsible for infecting their workers and customers, and we simply can't afford that.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.