The son of a Tyson Foods employee who died from COVID-19 complications earlier this year as cases of the pandemic swept through meat processing facilities has filed a lawsuit alleging that Tyson Food managers had a "winner-take-all" bet on how many employees would test positive for the virus. Isidro Fernandez died on April 26 after having worked at Tyson's Waterloo facility. His death was one of several coronavirus-related deaths of Tyson employees, with hundreds of other employees having contracted the virus.
The lawsuit, which names Tyson Foods Chairman John Tyson, CEO Noel White, and Manager Tom Hart, among numerous others, alleges that Tyson managers engaged in "fraudulent misrepresentations, gross negligence and incorrigible, willful and wanton disregard for worker safety." The suit claims multiple times that the defendants pressured employees to continue working, as the facility had to remain open, so "Americans don't go hungry." According to the documents, manager John Casey "explicitly directed supervisors to ignore symptoms of COVID-19" and told supervisors that they "had to show up to work, even if they were exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19." He also allegedly "directed supervisors to make their direct reports come to work, even if those direct reports were showing symptoms of COVID-19."
"On one occasion, Mr. Casey intercepted a sick supervisor en-route to get tested and ordered the supervisor to get back to work," the suit claims, alleging that Casey said, "'We all have symptoms. You have a job to do.'"
As cases within meat processing facilities began to rise, court documents showed that Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson advised the company to shut down its Waterloo location, noting that the working conditions "shook him to the core." Tyson Foods, however, kept the facility open. Around this same time, according to the lawsuit, "Defendant Tom Hart, the Plant Manager of the Waterloo facility, 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." High-level Tyson executives also allegedly lobbied White House officials for protection from efforts to contain COVID-19.
Tyson Foods has denied many of the allegations made in the lawsuit. In a statement to CBS Des Moines affiliate KCCI-TV, the company said they were "saddened by the loss of any Tyson team member and sympathized with their families." It explained that their "top priority is the health and safety of our workers." While the company refrained from directly commenting on the lawsuit, it noted that it has "implemented a host of protective measures at Waterloo and our other facilities that meet or exceed CDC and OSHA guidance for preventing COVID-19."
Among those policies, Tyson Foods "formed a coronavirus task force" and "began educating our team members…about the virus" and began symptom screenings and requiring face masks, among other measures. The company claimed that "the Black Hawk County Health Department (BHCHD) declined to share information with our company about Tyson team members with COVID-19" and said that "once we started receiving the case information, we made the decision to idle production and work with state and local health officials to conduct facility-wide testing."