Tyson Foods Managers Placed Bets On How Many Workers Would Catch Covid-19, Wrongful Death Lawsuit Alleges

Food & Drink


Managers at a Tyson Foods meat processing plant downplayed the extent and severity of a Covid-19 outbreak tearing through the Iowa facility, taking bets on how many employees would get sick as they kept the plant open for business in dangerous conditions, a wrongful death lawsuit filed by a worker’s son alleges. 

Key Facts

In May, officials said more than 1,000 employees had contracted Covid-19 at Tyson’s Waterloo pork processing plant, with at least six reported to have died from complications.

The plant was eventually closed, though local officials slammed the company’s failure to take proper precautions to safeguard its employees from Covid-19.  

In August, the son of Isidro Fernandez, who had worked at the plant, sued Tyson Foods over his father’s death, alleging dangerous and unhygienic conditions and a failure to protect workers from the outbreak.  

Tyson displayed a “wilful and wanton disregard for worker safety,” the suit alleges.

This suit was amended with further allegations on November 11, claiming that one manager “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.” 

In a statement sent to Waterloo broadcaster KWWL after the amendments, a Tyson spokesperson declined to directly address the lawsuit, though said the company is saddened by the loss of a team member, adding that “our top priority is the health and safety of our workers and we’ve implemented a host of protective measures at Waterloo and our other facilities that meet or exceed CDC and OSHA guidance for preventing Covid-19.”

Key Background

Food processing facilities have been at the center of numerous Covid-19 outbreaks around the country. Amid fears of food shortages, they have faced pressure to remain open even as Covid-19 tears through facilities, and in April, President Donald Trump invoked the 1950 Defense Production Act to require them to stay open during the pandemic. Unions responded with venom, accusing the President of rushing the re-opening of plants without proper regard for employee safety. Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), derided the order as “a reckless move that will put American lives at risk and further endanger the long-term security of our nation’s food supply.”

Big Number

4%. That’s how much Tyson’s Waterloo pork processing plant, the company’s largest, represents of the country’s pork processing capacity.  

Further Reading

Tyson Foods managers had a ‘winner-take-all’ bet on how many workers would get covid-19, lawsuit alleges (Washington Post)

BREAKING: Lawsuit against Tyson alleges Waterloo managers bet on how many workers would get COVID-19, one called it “glorified flu” (KKWL)

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