As state officials and lawmakers urged the shutdown of a Tyson Foods pork-processing plant in Iowa, managers at the plant reportedly placed bets on how many would end up getting sick.
That is one of the many new allegations leveled against Tyson Foods in an amended lawsuit filed Wednesday. The corporation kept its Waterloo, Iowa, plant open even as local officials urged its shutdown early in the pandemic.
As a result, about 1,000 employees contracted COVID-19, five of whom died. That includes Isidro Fernandez, whose family filed the suit against the meat empire this year.
Tyson Foods has since suspended the individuals reportedly involved, per a statement issued Thursday afternoon by the company. “We expect every team member at Tyson Foods to operate with the utmost integrity and care in everything we do,” said Tyson CEO and president Dean Banks in a statement. “If these claims are confirmed, we’ll take all measures necessary to root out and remove this disturbing behavior from our company.”
The company, per the statement, will “conduct an independent investigation” helmed by Eric Holder, the Attorney General under former President Barack Obama.
According to KWWL-TV in Waterloo, which obtained a copy of the amended lawsuit, managers at the plant repeatedly downplayed the severity of COVID-19 at the plant to both supervisors and processing workers.
While supervisors were aware of the virus, avoiding the plant floor, they denied the existence of “confirmed cases” at the plant to workers.
One manager, John Casey, directed supervisors to ignore symptoms of COVID-19 to continue to work and allegedly urged supervisors to direct their staff to do the same. Casey also reportedly likened coronavirus to a “glorified flu.”
In April, Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson publicly expressed concern over the Tyson plant remaining open. Around this time, according to the suit, plant manager Tom Hart allegedly began organizing the “winner take all” betting ring among managers and supervisors over how many employees would fall ill to COVID-19.
A week later, more than 620 people in the county had tested positive for the coronavirus and seven had died. Ninety percent of the deaths, Black Hawk County Health Department director Dr. Nafissa Cisse Egbuonye said at the time, were linked to the Tyson plant.
The company also offered “thank you bonuses” of $500 for employees who attended every shift they were assigned for a period of three months.