Meatpacking plants have proven to be one of rural America’s worst vectors for spreading COVID-19.
Since late March, when the first plant worker tested positive for the virus, thousands of meatpacking plant workers have tested positive, and over 200 have died. Despite that, in one of the plants hardest hit by the virus run by Tyson Foods, a lawsuit alleges that plant managers showed spectacularly bad behavior—even placing bets on how many employees would test positive, reports the Iowa Capital Dispatch.
This lawsuit was filed by the family of Isidro Fernandez, a worker at Tyson Foods’s Waterloo, Iowa plant; that plant is Tyson’s largest, and was shut down after hundreds of workers tested positive. According to the Iowa Capital Dispatch, included in the lawsuit is an allegation that plant managers created a cash buy-in betting pool based on how many of the plant’s workers would test positive for the virus.
The allegations don’t stop there. One senior manager is accused of referring to COVID-19 as a “glorified flu” and telling workers to come to work even if they were showing symptoms. As the virus spread, upper level managers began to show fear, claims the lawsuit, and refused to go onto the floor, instead sending inexperienced junior managers.
Fernandez’s family is far from alone, as families of plant workers, who have died from COVID-19 contracted at work, have filed a number of lawsuits against the agribusiness corporations running those plants. The plants, with admittedly lousy guidance from the federal government, were slow and reluctant to enact safety standards, according to multiple reports. (Companies like Cargill, Smithfield Foods, and Tyson deny this, pointing to the installation of some protective measures, but even the federal government has cited plants for inadequately protecting workers.)
In response to the lawsuit, Tyson Foods issued a statement saying they have suspended the accused plant managers without pay and will conduct an internal investigation to “root out and remove this disturbing behavior from our company.” But Tyson Foods also gave $500 bonuses to workers if they came to work every day during the initial pandemic, an incentive that could entice workers showing symptoms to come to work anyway. Reports have indicated a desire on the part of these plants to stay open at all costs.