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Vice

Tyson Managers Taking Bets On Workers Getting COVID

Vice reports on the callous actions at one pork processing plant.

Posted on
Nov 19, 2020

Vice is reporting that managers at a Tyson plant were caught taking bets on how many of their workers would get sick as COVID ripped through their factories. Find out more below from Vice.

Managers at Tyson Foods’ largest pork processing plant allegedly created a “winner-take-all” betting game on how many employees would contract the coronavirus at the height of the pandemic, all while encouraging them to work in crowded, unsanitary conditions.

The game began in March, according to a federal lawsuit filed this month by Oscar Fernandez, the son of a plant worker who died of COVID-19 in late April. Fernandez claims that Tyson and Waterloo plant manager Tom Hart not only failed to provide a safe work environment for its approximately 2,800 workers, the managers made cash wagers on how many employees would catch the deadly disease.

Fernandez is suing the company and management at the plant for gross negligence.

“Tyson failed to provide appropriate personal protective equipment and failed to implement sufficient social distancing or safety measures to protect workers from the outbreak,” the lawsuit claims. “As a result, Isidro Fernandez and more than 1,000 other Tyson employees were infected with COVID-19 at the Waterloo Facility.”

Workers in meat processing factories often work in close proximity to each other, breathing heavily due to the physical demands of the job, in moist, cold interiors. Many of the workers at the plant Waterloo plant are non-English speakers, according to the lawsuit, creating another barrier between workers and the severity of the outbreak.

Instead of trying to reduce the spread, Hart and other managers mentioned in the lawsuit publicly denied that an outbreak was underway.

For three weeks, Waterloo officials including Black Hawk County Sheriff, elected officials and health officials repeatedly demanded that Tyson shut down the plant after seeing the horrid working conditions, which Tyson refused. The company even transferred workers from a plant in Georgia that had been shut down because of the virus to the Waterloo plant instead of quarantining them. Tyson would eventually close down the plant on May 4 before resuming limited production three days later.

The lawsuit also alleges that Tyson managers demanded its sick employees continue working even while exhibiting symptoms. The lawsuit claims managers told employees who tested for COVID-19 to continue working until they received test results.

“We all have symptoms—you have a job to do,” plant manager John Casey told one sick worker on his way to get tested, according to the lawsuit.

As early as January, Tyson created a coronavirus task force, according to the lawsuit, after seeing the impact the disease had on its factories in China. Despite the jumpstart on the issue, Tyson, the largest meat processor in the country, has struggled to manage the pandemic since it reached the U.S. earlier this year. Outbreaks have occurred in its plants in Georgia, Washington, Nebraska, and Iowa in the past. 

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