Tyson plant managers under fire for insensitive COVID bets

When the coronavirus first started getting meatpacking workers sick back in April, Tyson Foods ran a full-page newspaper ad in publications like The Washington Post and The New York Times about the responsibility of supplying meat to the country during a pandemic. "The food supply chain is breaking," John H. Tyson, chairman of the company's executive board, wrote. "We have a responsibility to feed our country. It is as essential as healthcare. This is a challenge that should not be ignored. Our plants must remain operational so that we can supply food to our families in America. This is a delicate balance because Tyson Foods places team member safety as our top priority."

Now it seems Tyson Food's promise to protect its team members has fallen short, as the company now faces a wrongful death lawsuit tied to COVID-19 infections at the company's biggest processing plant in Waterloo, Iowa. Among the allegations is that the plant manager had organized a betting pool for supervisors and managers to wager on how many plant employees would test positive for COVID-19. The Iowa Capital Dispatch reports that at least five plant employees died of the virus, while more than 1,000 — or about a third of the workers — eventually got sick.

Tyson manager: "We all have symptoms — you have a job to do."

During the early days of the pandemic, workers had alleged that they were being asked to work in unsafe conditions and that they were given unclear instructions about when to return to work (via The Washington Post). Now the case alleges that supervisors were told to ignore COVID-19 symptoms, to tell workers that the coronavirus was a "glorified flu" and that it wasn't a big deal because "everyone is going to get it." The case even singles out a manager who told the supervisor that: "We all have symptoms — you have a job to do." Plant managers at the Waterloo plant also denied the existence of confirmed and positive cases. The lawsuit then claims that while Tyson said plants were needed to feed America, the company eventually increased its exports to China by 600 percent during the first quarter of 2020 (via Iowa Capital Dispatch). 

Tyson CEO Dean Banks has since released a statement saying: "We are extremely upset about the accusations involving some of the leadership at our Waterloo plant. These allegations do not represent who we are. If these claims are confirmed, we'll take all measures necessary to root out and remove this disturbing behavior from our company." Banks, who is also named in the suit, has said those accused have been suspended without pay, and that the company has hired a law firm to lead an investigation into the incidents (via CNN).