It sounds like something out of a horror movie but a real-life lawsuit accuses Tyson Foods supervisors of running a betting pool to wager on how many employees would contract coronavirus.
The allegation comes from a wrongful death lawsuit by the family of Isidro Fernandez, one of at least five workers to die of COVID-19 complications at Tyson’s Waterloo, Iowa, pork processing plant. He was also one of more than 1,000 workers, out of its total 2,800, to have contracted coronavirus, according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch.
The Fernandez family's legal complaint was recently amended to include the following, according to the Capital Dispatch:
• 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.
Tyson said it has suspended without pay “the individuals allegedly involved” and pledges to “take all measures necessary to root out and remove” such behavior if confirmed by an independent investigation to be led by former Attorney General Eric Holder.
Even without COVID-19, the low-paid workers at poultry and meat processing plants, usually people of color and immigrants, work under extremely tough conditions, HuffPost notes. They have a higher reported injury rate than the rest of private sector jobs and the actual injuries are probably even higher. And it’s not like the Trump administration is helping the situation, either:
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance at the beginning of the pandemic recommending that meatpacking companies put up physical barriers, enforce social distancing and install more hand-sanitizing stations, among other steps. But the guidance is not mandatory and is mostly unenforceable.