Tyson Foods Fires Managers Over Bets on COVID-19 Staff Infections

  • Wrongful death lawsuit alleged “cash buy-in, winner-take-all betting pool” at Waterloo, Iowa plant
  • Managers placed wagers on how many workers would contract COVID-19 at facility
  • US meat supplier began internal investigation led by former US attorney General Eric Holder 
  • Suit includes other allegations regarding insufficient health and safety measures
Tyson logo on website seen through a magnifying glass
Tyson Foods has fired seven managers at a pork plant in Waterloo, Iowa after a lawsuit alleged they set up a betting pool on the percentage of coronavirus infections at the facility. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Accusations stem from wrongful death suit

US-based meat supplier Tyson Foods has fired seven managers at its largest pork processing plant in Waterloo, Iowa following allegations that they placed wagers on how many employees would contract COVID-19 while working at the facility.

According to an NBC News report, the allegations arose in a wrongful death lawsuit filed in the summer and amended in November. Oscar Fernandez took legal action after the death of his father, Isidro Fernandez, a Tyson’s Waterloo facility worker who died of coronavirus-related complications in April. The suit claimed the company did not take sufficient measures to protect staff from the virus.

cash buy-in, winner-take-all betting pool for supervisors and managers

The complaint also accused plant managers of organizing a “cash buy-in, winner-take-all betting pool for supervisors and managers to wager how many employees would test positive for COVID-19,” prompting an internal investigation.

Betting pool set up as virus spread

The plaintiff’s attorney, Mel Orchard, and his legal team uncovered the betting allegations during interviews with former Tyson officials. According to the revised complaint, the managers set up the betting pool as the virus spread through the Waterloo plant in spring this year. At the time, local officials were pressuring Tyson to close the plant because of safety concerns.

Orchard is also representing another three lawsuits on behalf of the families of three Waterloo plant employees who died in the wake of the pandemic.

Last month, Tyson issued a statement from president and CEO Dean Banks in response to the wagering allegations. Banks described the accusations as “disturbing” and ensured the company would “root out” the behavior. After suspending the seven managers without pay, Tyson chose former US Attorney General Eric Holder to lead an internal investigation.

On Wednesday, Tyson announced the completion of its inquiry, and the resulting termination of the said managers’ employment:

In a statement, Banks observed: “The behaviors exhibited by these individuals do not represent the Tyson core values, which is why we took immediate and appropriate action to get to the truth.” In addition to letting the managers go, the executive said the company partnered with Holder to continue making internal improvements for a “trusting and respectful workplace.”

Not the end of Tyson’s troubles?

The wrongful death lawsuit made a number of other allegations of misconduct at the Waterloo plant. It stated that COVID-19 infected 1,000 of 2,800 employees at the facility, while at least six died. In April, the Black Hawk County health department linked the Tyson plant to 183 of the county’s 374 coronavirus cases.

managers encouraged staff to carry on working even if they displayed coronavirus symptoms

The complaint alleged that plant managers encouraged staff to carry on working even if they displayed coronavirus symptoms or felt sick. Meanwhile, the management team would take action to protect themselves from the virus, such as avoiding the plant floor.

The suit also described the reaction of Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson after visiting the facility in spring. He reportedly said the crowded working conditions at the plant and the absence of face masks “shook me to the core.” Thompson and other local officials lobbied Tyson to close the plant as a result. The facility shut its doors on April 22 amid increasing pressure, but reopened just two weeks later.