Tyson Foods president and chief executive officer Dean Banks said the company has suspended supervisors of its Waterloo, Iowa, plant who allegedly bet how many employees would contract COVID-19 when the pandemic emerged earlier this year. The allegations surfaced in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the estate of an employee who died from COVID-19. A total of four lawsuits have been filed by the estates of individuals who died of the virus.
“We are extremely upset about the accusations involving some of the leadership at our Waterloo plant,” Banks said in a statement. “Tyson Foods is a family company with 139,000 team members, and these allegations do not represent who we are or our core values and team behaviors. We expect every team member at Tyson Foods to operate with the utmost integrity and care in everything we do.”
The latest lawsuit claims it arises from Tyson’s “fraudulent misrepresentations, gross negligence and incorrigible, willful and wanton disregard for worker safety” that led to more than 1,000 Tyson employees — more than one third of the company's Waterloo workforce — being infected with COVID-19 at the facility.
“Despite an uncontrolled COVID-19 outbreak, Tyson required its employees to work long hours in cramped conditions,” the lawsuit stated. “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.”
The lawsuit said on April 14, a visit by Black Hawk County, Iowa, Sherriff Tony Thompson revealed working conditions at the facility that “shook [him] to the core.” It specifically noted that “workers were crowded elbow to elbow, most without face coverings.”
Despite public officers lobbying the company to close the plant, “the company refused,” the lawsuit alleged. It was also around this time that a plant 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.”
When the lawsuit was filed in mid-November, it said more than 8,500 Tyson employees had contracted COVID-19 -- “more than double the number for any other company.” It also relayed that at least 20 Tyson employees have died nationwide.
In addition to suspending the individuals involved, Tyson has retained the law firm Covington & Burling LLP to conduct an independent investigation led by Eric Holder, former U.S. attorney general.
“If these claims are confirmed, we’ll take all measures necessary to root out and remove this disturbing behavior from our company,” Banks said.
He further noted that the company’s top priority is, and remains, the health and safety of its team members.
“We’ve invested hundreds of millions of dollars to transform our U.S. facilities, including the Waterloo plant, with protective measures -- from walk-through temperature scanners and workstation dividers to social distance monitors and always-on testing,” Banks said.