Tyson Foods has suspended top plant leadership in its Waterloo, Iowa, pork processing plant without pay after allegations they made light of the COVID-19 pandemic by operating a betting pool for supervisors and managers to wager how many plant employees would test positive.
The allegations came to light Wednesday (Nov. 18) in the ongoing wrongful death suit filed by the family of Isidro Fernandez, a Waterloo employee who died of COVID-19 in April. The case is being heard in U.S. District Court for Northern Iowa. Fernandez was one of six reported deaths among plant employees from COVID-19.
Tyson Foods CEO Dean Banks released the following statement Thursday (Nov. 19) following the suspensions.
“We are extremely upset about the accusations involving some of the leadership at our Waterloo plant. 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. We have suspended, without pay, the individuals allegedly involved and have retained the law firm Covington & Burling LLP to conduct an independent investigation led by former Attorney General Eric Holder. If these claims are confirmed, we’ll take all measures necessary to root out and remove this disturbing behavior from our company.”
Banks reiterated the company’s top priority is the health and safety of employees. He said Tyson has invested millions of dollars to transform its 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.
The Waterloo plant was hit hard by COVID-19 requiring the plant to close on April 22, as the community saw a rise in positive cases. The plant employs 2,800 workers and all were tested for the virus. The plant did resume operations on May 7 at reduced capacity because of worker absenteeism. Tyson also paid bonuses to workers who did show up for work. All employees were compensated during the furlough. In May, Tyson reported that 44% of Waterloo employees tested positive for COVID-19.
The lawsuit is seeking unspecified damages for fraudulent misrepresentation and gross negligence. Tyson had the case moved to federal court after President Donald Trump invoked his authority under the Defense Production Act issuing an executive order for meat and poultry processing companies to continue operating despite the onslaught of positive cases.