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Managers at Tyson meat plant had betting pool on how many workers would get Covid, lawsuit alleges

Tyson Foods managers at an Iowa pork processing facility are accused of taking bets on how many of the facility's employees would get infected with Covid-19, according to a lawsuit. CNN's Dan Simon reports.

Posted: Nov 21, 2020 10:01 AM
Updated: Nov 21, 2020 10:01 AM

Tyson supervisors at a pork processing facility in Waterloo, Iowa took bets on how many workers would get infected with Covid-19, even as they took measures to protect themselves and denied knowledge of the spread of the illness at work, according to new allegations in a lawsuit against the company and some employees.

The wrongful death suit was originally filed this summer by Oscar Fernandez, whose father Isidro Fernandez died in April due to complications from Covid-19. Fernandez had worked at Tyson's Waterloo, Iowa facility, the company's largest pork processing plant, before he died. The suit alleged that Tyson did not take sufficient measures to protect workers, and that the company encouraged workers to come in while they were sick.

In November, the suit was amended to include troubling new allegations about the behaviors of leaders within the Waterloo facility.

According to the updated lawsuit, "most managers at the Waterloo Facility started avoiding the plant floor because they were afraid of contracting the virus" in late March or early April. While the virus spread on the meatpacking floor, managers delegated their duties to "low-level supervisors with no management training or experience," the lawsuit alleged. Lawyers for the defendants named in the suit did not immediately return a request for comment.

Meanwhile, the suit alleges, the supervisors named in the suit canceled safety meetings. After learning about positive cases in the plant, they told other supervisors to deny their existence, the suit says.

At the same time, they were taking bets on how many people would get sick, according to the lawsuit, which accused the Waterloo plant manager of organizing "a cash buy-in, winner-take-all betting pool for supervisors and managers to wager how many employees would test positive for Covid-19."

"We are extremely upset about the accusations involving some of the leadership at our Waterloo plant," Tyson CEO Dean Banks said Thursday in a statement responding to the new allegations.

"These allegations do not represent who we are," he said, adding that the accused individuals have been suspended without pay, and that Tyson has tapped a law firm to lead an independent investigation into what happened. "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 top executive is himself named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Plant managers also allegedly encouraged workers to stay on the job even if they were feeling sick or exhibiting symptoms, the lawsuit said. One defendant, who held an upper-management level position, allegedly told supervisors to come in even if they were feeling sick. In one case, the suit said, he stopped a supervisor who was going to get tested and told him "we all have symptoms — you have a job to do." A worker who vomited while working on the production line was also allowed to keep working and return the follow day, according to the suit.

Meatpacking facilities, where workers often work in close quarters, emerged as virus hotspots early in the pandemic. Iowa lawmakers filed a complaint with OSHA against Tyson in April, according to local news reports. Tyson ended up temporarily idling the Waterloo facility in late April after some of its 2,800 workers called in sick. At the time, the Black Hawk County health department linked the Tyson plant to 182 of the county's Covid-19 cases, which then amounted to 374 altogether.

Tyson said it decided to pause production at Waterloo after receiving data from the health department. It reopened the facility in May. By that time, over 1,000 Waterloo workers had tested positive for Covid-19, the county health department said in May.

As the number of new coronavirus cases continue to sharply increase across the country, Tyson says it has a plan to keep workers healthy.

During a recent analyst call discussing fourth quarter results, Banks said that the company has introduced a new strategy to monitor cases at the plant, including testing a sample of employees every week, and plans to hire a chief medical officer. It is also continuing efforts it began this spring, like giving employees face masks, installing dividers and other measures.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 455783

Reported Deaths: 6166
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin945441502
Ramsey40698749
Dakota33623354
Anoka31398368
Washington20579237
Stearns18111190
St. Louis14006251
Scott1221199
Wright11811107
Olmsted1083075
Sherburne831270
Carver705639
Clay660684
Rice624774
Kandiyohi558772
Blue Earth549533
Crow Wing490678
Otter Tail464968
Chisago460438
Benton423788
Winona394948
Douglas379766
Nobles374847
Mower374429
Goodhue358163
Polk330760
McLeod328647
Beltrami316148
Morrison314645
Lyon306139
Becker289439
Itasca287843
Isanti286143
Carlton284443
Steele279510
Pine270515
Freeborn254723
Todd233730
Nicollet230538
Brown218634
Mille Lacs215745
Le Sueur214416
Cass210824
Meeker201533
Waseca193316
Wabasha17483
Martin172026
Roseau166517
Hubbard151138
Redwood141327
Houston140314
Dodge13974
Renville138540
Chippewa133232
Cottonwood129118
Fillmore12778
Wadena120818
Rock112012
Aitkin111533
Faribault110116
Sibley11017
Watonwan10698
Pennington101016
Kanabec99818
Pipestone97223
Yellow Medicine95016
Murray9137
Jackson87310
Swift84718
Pope7485
Stevens7078
Marshall70415
Clearwater68814
Lake66415
Lac qui Parle66116
Wilkin63510
Koochiching60810
Lincoln4912
Big Stone4703
Unassigned43968
Grant4388
Norman4268
Mahnomen4167
Kittson37420
Red Lake3204
Traverse2623
Lake of the Woods1981
Cook1160

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 312194

Reported Deaths: 4433
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk46975465
Linn18114279
Scott15900172
Black Hawk14123243
Woodbury13145181
Johnson1231752
Dubuque11651159
Pottawattamie9182115
Dallas910872
Story883538
Cerro Gordo474372
Webster473377
Warren461539
Sioux460457
Clinton459168
Marshall432262
Buena Vista397230
Muscatine396578
Des Moines395543
Plymouth353670
Wapello351798
Jasper333359
Lee326932
Marion310853
Jones275250
Henry269131
Carroll258934
Bremer250448
Crawford235824
Washington224133
Boone223517
Benton213950
Mahaska198637
Jackson195332
Tama190959
Dickinson189229
Kossuth180944
Delaware176536
Clay173021
Wright167624
Fayette166324
Hamilton162530
Buchanan162324
Winneshiek161020
Harrison158762
Hardin157831
Cedar155819
Clayton153949
Butler152324
Page148115
Floyd141936
Cherokee140327
Mills138517
Lyon137933
Poweshiek135424
Hancock132424
Allamakee131530
Iowa128022
Madison124210
Calhoun12379
Grundy122828
Jefferson122425
Winnebago122329
Mitchell117137
Louisa116430
Cass115343
Chickasaw113812
Appanoose113040
Sac112815
Union111723
Emmet111332
Humboldt107819
Shelby106427
Guthrie104624
Franklin103618
Unassigned10210
Palo Alto92611
Montgomery89224
Keokuk86426
Howard85919
Monroe82620
Clarke8199
Pocahontas78711
Ida76430
Davis70421
Adair69720
Greene6977
Monona68418
Lucas66910
Osceola65011
Worth6224
Taylor6009
Fremont5276
Van Buren50515
Decatur4994
Ringgold45511
Audubon4258
Wayne42021
Adams3023
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