As hundreds of its employees were falling ill to Covid-19, managers and supervisors at a Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Waterloo, Iowa, were placing bets on how many of their employees would contract the virus, a lawsuit filed against one of America’s largest meat producers alleges.
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The wrongful death lawsuit was filed last week by the son of a Tyson Foods employee named Isidro Fernandez, who died on 26 April after contracting Covid-19. The lawsuit included an alleged bet between managers as an example of the company’s negligence towards its workers during the pandemic, along with having employees work “elbow to elbow; most without face coverings”.
“Despite an uncontrolled Covid-19 outbreak, Tyson required its employees to work long hours in cramped conditions,” the lawsuit states. “Moreover, despite the danger of Covid-19, Tyson failed to provide appropriate personal protective equipment and failed to implement sufficient social distancing or safety measures to protect workers from the outbreak.”
As Covid-19 outbreaks were just starting to appear across the country, and states were issuing mandatory stay-at-home orders, workers at meat factories were continuing to fall ill.
At the end of April, Tyson closed or reduced production at several of its facilities, including the plant in Waterloo, after local officials pressed the company to halt production as cases rose. The company reopened the plant in early May after installing “enhanced safety precautions and protective social distancing measures”.
Before the plant closed, more than 1,000 employees out of about 2,800 at the plant had tested positive for Covid-19. At least five other employees who worked at the plant died during the pandemic. Families of three of the dead are also suing the company, according to the Associated Press.
In a statement to the Iowa Capital Dispatch, Tyson said that the company was “saddened by the loss of any Tyson team member and sympathize[s] with their families”.
The company declined to comment on specific allegations in the lawsuit. But it said its “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 [official] guidance for preventing Covid-19”.
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