Lawsuit alleges Tyson managers took bets on how many workers would get coronavirus

The complaint alleges 'incorrigible, willful and wanton disregard for worker safety'

The son of a deceased Tyson Foods employee is accusing the company of neglecting worker safety at its pork processing plant in Waterloo, Iowa.

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Oscar Fernandez, son of Isidro Fernandez, this week filed a lawsuit uploaded by local news outlet KCCI accusing the company of "fraudulent misrepresentations, gross negligence, and incorrigible, willful and wanton disregard for worker safety." Isidro Fernandez died of complications from the novel coronavirus in April.

The complaint notes that at one point during the pandemic, managers and supervisors made cash bets on how many workers would contract COVID-19. The virus put enormous pressure on U.S. supply chains earlier this year, leading to temporary meat shortages in some areas.

Tyson Foods officials say nearly a third of its workforce have been tested. Pictured is a Tyson Foods plant in Waterloo, Iowa. (REUTERS/Brenna Norman/File Photo)

"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 reads.

Tyson Foods President and CEO Dan Banks, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, said in a Thursday statement that the company has "suspended, without pay, the individuals allegedly involved" in the activities mentioned in the complaint.

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"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 said in a statement.

Other defendants named in the complaint include Tyson Foods Chairman John H. Tyson and CEO Noel W. White, as well as Tyson Fresh Meats President Stephen R. Stouffer and Health and Safety for Tyson Foods Senior Vice President Tom Brower.

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The lawsuit also alleges that Black Hawk County Sherriff Tony Thompson said conditions at the Waterloo plant "shook [him] to the core," due to overcrowding and a lack of personal protective equipment.

Workers line up to enter the Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Logansport, Ind., Thursday, May 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

"Sheriff Thompson and other local officials lobbied Tyson to close the plant, but the company refused," the suit reads, noting that the company's refusal to close the plant came around the same time supervisors allegedly organized the cash bet.

More than 1,000 Waterloo-based Tyson employees have contracted COVID-19 this year, and five have died of the vrius, according to the COVID-19 tracking project by the Food & Environment Reporting Network. At least 49,172 meatpacking workers have tested positive for COVID-19 nationwide.

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The relatives of four deceased Waterloo Tyson employees have sued the company since June over what they alleged to be unsafe working conditions during the pandemic. The four employees died of COVID-19.

Tyson temporarily closed operations at the plant after a COVID-19 outbreak in April but resumed in May.

Tyson's website states that the company has put a number of precautionary measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including wellness health screenings at facilities including temperature checks, personal protective equipment and social distancing monitors to "help ensure safety protocols and social distancing."

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