Executives at Tyson plant reportedly bet on number of workers receiving COVID-19

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Officials at a Tyson Foods plant in Waterloo, Iowa, have rejected requests by local authorities to temporarily shut down during the pandemic and have bet on the number of workers who will end up receiving COVID-19, according to a complaint recently filed.

The family of Isidro Fernandez, a factory worker who died from COVID-19, have filed a lawsuit, alleging that Tyson Foods downplayed the spread of the coronavirus among its workforce and urged employees to come when they were sick .

“At least one factory worker vomited on the production line and management allowed him to continue working and return to work the next day,” the lawsuit said.

Then, as workers were infected with COVID-19, a factory manager organized a “buy-in cash, win-win” betting pool to see how many workers would end up testing positive for the virus, according to the lawsuit.

Working conditions were so tough at the Waterloo plant, lawyers for Fernandez’s family say a local sheriff said they were “shaking [him] in the heart. ”

Fernandez, who died on April 20, was one of some 2,800 workers at the facility, which processes more than 19,000 pigs a day, according to the complaint.

The company finally ceased operations on April 22 – after all of the pork carcasses in its cooler had been processed. But by then, the epidemic had spread through the workforce. Five workers at the plant have died so far and, according to the complaint, the Black Hawk County Health Department has recorded more than 1,000 COVID-19 infections among Tyson employees.

The wrongful death lawsuit was filed by Fernandez’s family earlier this year in state court, but moved to federal court after Tyson Foods argued the plant had remained open during the pandemic at the request of President Donald Trump to preserve the food supply chain.

The amended lawsuit, which was first reported by the Iowa Capital Dispatch, includes allegations that the company ignored the safety of workers by not providing them with adequate safety equipment, making them work on a crowded floor and tricking employees with $ 500 “thank you bonuses” to keep showing despite being sick.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the trial, but has previously said its top priority “is the health and safety of our team members, their families and our communities.”

“We take this responsibility very seriously and do what we can,” the company said, adding that it has taken actions that meet or exceed federal safety requirements.

In Federal Court, attorneys for Tyson in previous filings said they disputed the allegations and that managers had “worked from the onset of the pandemic to follow federal workplace guidelines and invested millions of dollars. dollars to provide employees with safety and risk mitigation equipment. . ”

But according to the complaint, the company did not distribute adequate protection and did not start implementing employee temperature checks until April 6, but even then they did not include the drivers of truck or subcontractors.

“At the end of March or the beginning of April, the watchdog defendants and most of the managers of the Waterloo facility began to avoid the factory floor because they were afraid of contracting the virus,” the complaint alleges. Instead, managers began to delegate tasks to “low level supervisors”.

Supervisors also told employees they had a “responsibility” to continue to report to work “to make sure Americans don’t go hungry.”

After local inspectors visited the plant on April 10, they asked Tyson officials to shut down temporarily so that they could implement measures to stop the spread of the virus.

The company refused, and around that time the lawsuit says the plant manager “organized a cash buy-out, win-win-win betting pool for supervisors and managers to bet. how many employees would test positive for COVID-19 ”.

On April 12, the lawsuit alleges that two dozen employees were taken to the emergency room at the local hospital.

Supervisors were asked to report to work even when they were showing symptoms of COVID-19. When a supervisor left his job to get tested, another allegedly told him to go back to work, saying, “we all have symptoms – you have a job to do”.

Instead of implementing measures to keep workers at home, workers were instead rewarded with “thank you bonuses” of $ 500 when they showed up for work for each shift for three months.

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