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Suit alleges Tyson Foods plant manager bet on how many workers would get coronavirus

A federal lawsuit alleges that management at a Tysons Foods meat plant bet on whether employees would contract the coronavirus. About a third at the Iowa plant tested positive.
A Tyson Fresh Meats plant in Waterloo, Iowa.Jeff Reinitz / The Courier via AP file

A federal wrongful death lawsuit alleges that a manager at a Tyson Foods plant in Iowa organized a group bet on how many meatpacking employees would contract Covid-19 just as the coronavirus began to spread widely among plant workers in late March and early April.

The suit, filed on behalf of the estate of a deceased Tyson Foods Inc. employee, Isidro Fernandez, alleges that Covid-19 was spreading widely at the Waterloo, Iowa, pork processing plant in early April when Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson visited with county health officials.

Working conditions at the plant were so bad that they "shook" Thompson "to the core," according to the suit, which said that, at that time, Waterloo plant workers were crowded together and few wore face coverings.

The suit alleges that Thompson lobbied Tyson to close the plant but that it did not.

The suit also alleges that as Waterloo employees fell ill, Tyson transferred employees from another shuttered facility to Waterloo and did not properly test them beforehand, worsening the spread.

"Around this time, Defendant Tom Hart, the Plant Manager of the Waterloo Facility, organized a cash buy-in, winner-take-all betting pool for supervisors and managers to wager how many employees would test positive for COVID-19," the suit alleges.

Hart did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On April 22, because of the wide spread of the coronavirus among its employees, Tyson shut down the Waterloo pork processing plant at the center of the lawsuit.

In ads in major newspapers on April 26, Tyson executives warned that the food supply was "breaking."

On April 28, President Donald Trump signed an executive order ordering meat plants to stay open.

Tyson reopened its Waterloo facility on May 5, according to a news release.

The suit alleges that in all, 1,000 of 2,800 Waterloo plant employees were infected.

Many dozens of Tyson employees at other plants in states like Indiana and Iowa also contracted the coronavirus in the spring, NBC News reported.

"We are extremely upset about the accusations involving some of the leadership at our Waterloo plant," Tyson said in a statement made public Thursday. "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."

CORRECTION (Nov. 19, 2020, 6:05 p.m. ET): A headline on an earlier version of this article misstated the percentage of employees at Tyson Foods' plant in Waterloo, Iowa, who a lawsuit alleges became infected with the coronavirus. The lawsuit alleged that about one-third of the employees became infected, not half.