Meat plant managers took bets on how many workers would get COVID, lawsuit alleges

WATERLOO – Tyson supervisors at a pork processing plant in Waterloo, Iowa took bets on how many workers would get infected with COVID-19, even as they tried to protect themselves and denied knowledge of the spread at work, according to court documents.

The new allegations surfaced in a wrongful death lawsuit against the company and some employees. The suit was originally filed by Oscar Fernandez, whose father died in April due to COVID-19 complications. Fernandez worked at Tyson’s Waterloo, Iowa facility, the company’s largest pork plant before he died.

The suit alleged that Tyson did not take sufficient measures to protect workers and that the company encouraged workers to come in while they were sick.

Earlier this month, the suit was amended to include troubling new allegations about the behaviors of leaders within the facility.

According to the updated lawsuit, “most managers at the Waterloo Facility started avoiding the plant floor because they were afraid of contracting the virus” in late March or early April. While the virus spread on the meatpacking floor, managers delegated their duties to “low-level supervisors with no management training or experience,” the lawsuit alleged. Lawyers for the defendants named in the suit did not immediately return a request for comment.

Additionally, supervisors named in the suit canceled safety meetings, the suit alleges. After learning about positive cases in the plant, they told other supervisors to deny their existence, according to the lawsuit.

At the same time, they were taking bets on how many people would get sick, according to the lawsuit, which accused the Waterloo plant manager of organizing “a cash buy-in, winner-take-all betting pool for supervisors and managers to wager how many employees would test positive for COVID-19.”

Plant managers also allegedly encouraged workers to stay on the job even if they were feeling sick or exhibiting symptoms, the lawsuit said. One defendant, who held an upper-management level position, allegedly told supervisors to come in even if they were feeling sick. In one case, he stopped a supervisor who was going to get tested and told him “we all have symptoms — you have a job to do,” according to the lawsuit.

A worker who vomited while working on the production line was also allowed to keep working and return the following day, according to the suit.

Tyson said it decided to pause production at Waterloo after receiving data from the health department. It reopened the facility in May. By that time, over 1,000 Waterloo workers had tested positive for COVID-19, the county health department said in May.

“We are extremely upset about the accusations involving some of the leadership at our Waterloo plant,” Tyson CEO Dean Banks said Thursday in a statement responding to the new allegations.

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