Tyson Foods has been sued by three families of workers in Waterloo, Iowa, after their family members contracted COVID-19 and died from complications.
The suit was filed in Black Hawk County District Court by the families of Sedika Buljic, 58, who died on April 18; Reberiano Garcia, 60, who died on April 23; and Jose Ayala, Jr., 44, each of which worked at the Tyson Foods pork slaughter and packing plant in Waterloo, according to the Associated Press. The suit alleges Tyson officials were aware the virus was spreading at the Waterloo plant in late March but they kept that information from employees and the public.
“Tyson intended by these false representations to deceive workers in the Waterloo facility … and to induce them to continue working despite the uncontrolled COVID-19 outbreak at the plant and the health risks associated with working,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed in Black Hawk County district court.
Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said the company was saddened by the deaths and that its “top priority is the health and safety of our workers.” He said Tyson has implemented safety measures that meet or exceed federal guidelines.
Tyson did close the plant April 22 and tested all the 2,800 employees for COVID-19. Tyson said in early May the Waterloo plant had 44% of employees test positive.
“Despite our continued efforts to keep our people safe while fulfilling our critical role of feeding American families, the combination of worker absenteeism, COVID-19 cases and community concerns has resulted in our decision to stop production,” Steve Stouffer, group president of Tyson Fresh Meats said in April.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union that represents most meatpacking employees reported Thursday 14,000 workers at unionized plants have been infected with COVID-19 and 65 of them have died.
Meatpacking plants came under an Executive Order from President Donald Trump in April to remain open as critical infrastructure. This came as consumers began to hoard meat and grocery stores could not keep the meat cases stocked. This order also gave some assurances to companies they could be shielded from legal entanglements if they abided by the protocol set forth by the federal government.