Activist groups ask Tyson Foods institutional investors to address COVID-19 crisis

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 1,255 views 

A letter on behalf of more than 120 advocate groups sent to Tyson Foods’ largest institutional investors and company executives asked them to address the rising number of COVID-19 cases impacting the health of the Springdale meat giant’s employees.

The letter was addressed to T. Rowe Price Associates Inc., BlackRock Fund Advisors, The Vanguard Group Inc., State Street Global Advisors and seven other institutional shareholders. The letter called on shareholders “to pressure Tyson Foods into implementing essential worker safety measures.”

A PDF of the letter is at this link.

“The situation has never been more dire; meatpacking workers are risking their lives just by going to work under unsafe conditions. More than 8,500 Tyson employees have tested positive for COVID-19, an infection count more than double that of any other meatpacker,” the letter said. “Tragically, more than 25 Tyson workers have died from the virus. These are just the cases that are publicly available.”

The movement comes on the heels of three families suing Tyson Foods for deaths related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re in such a crucial moment right now. For the future of the country, we must think deeply about the meaning of frontline food workers in our daily lives and stand up for their human rights and dignity — because they’ve always been essential, and if they don’t survive, we won’t survive,” said Magaly Licolli of Venceremos, a worker-based grassroots organization fighting for better working conditions for poultry workers, and who is part of this coalition.

Tyson Foods has repeatedly said the company has gone beyond the requirements of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other state and federal health officials by voluntarily testing its employees, many of whom did not show symptoms and otherwise would not have been identified as positive for COVID-19.

“Our top priority is the health and safety of our team members, their families and our communities and that continues to be our focus,” Tyson Foods said in a statement to the media. “We take this responsibility very seriously, it’s why we’ve put in place a host of protective steps that meet or exceed CDC and OSHA guidelines for preventing COVID-19 to protect our team members.”

Tyson Foods partnered with AxiomMed to bring mobile healthcare clinics to its plants to support the prevention of the spread of COVID-19 within facilities when it was found in clusters within the communities where the company operates. The company also has provided personal protective equipment to employees and is using social distance monitors to help keep workers from getting too close to one another in break rooms and locker facilities.

“We’re also pursuing community outreach efforts to educate team members on the risk factors associated with COVID-19 to ensure they can stay safe not only at work but also at home,” Tyson Foods said in the statement. “We are also working with public health officials and several national workers’ organizations to continually assess and update new operational and technological solutions at our facilities to safeguard our team members.”

The letter asked investors to “consider your responsibility as a shareholder in Tyson and use your position in Tyson Foods to demand these changes for workers during COVID-19.”

The activists charge in the letter Tyson Foods “has neglected issues” that risks more hotspots being created. The demands made by the activist groups include having Tyson Foods provide respirators on the production floor, slowing down line speeds, provide more transparency with regard to COVID-19 cases and eliminate the point system relating to employee attendance, which they say give incentives to those who do not miss work, penalizing those who may be afraid to return to work for health reasons.

One group absent from the coalition was the United Foods and Commercial Workers Union, which covers thousands of Tyson Foods employees in the meatpacking industry. Tyson Foods has said previously it has worked with unionized plants to ensure adequate pay and leave policies while also ensuring the work environment is safe.