WASHINGTON – Following news reports that a plant manager in Tyson’s Waterloo, Iowa pork processing plant organized a betting pool to “wager how many employees would test positive for COVID-19,” Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter issued the following statement:
“It is utterly unconscionable that the managers of this Tyson plant would place bets on the lives of their employees. Tyson and other meat processors allegedly forced workers to come into plants without proper personal protection equipment even when the employees had symptoms of COVID-19. Noel White was the chief executive officer of Tyson when this happened. Now a Tyson board member, White must be fired immediately. The executives of these meat companies must be held responsible for many lives lost due to their reckless behavior.”
Food processing plants across the country have been hotbeds for COVID-19 outbreaks. Despite CDC guidance that the working conditions in meat and poultry processing plants “may contribute substantially to [employees] potential exposures” to the coronavirus, companies have resisted calls to issue PPE to employees. Additionally, the Department of Agriculture has used the pandemic as an excuse to issue waivers to processing plants to increase line speeds, thus increasing the danger for employees.
The amended wrongful death lawsuit against Tyson also alleges that supervisors were told to ignore COVID symptoms, that plant supervisors denied the existence of COVID cases, and that the plant paid bonuses to employees who did not miss their assigned shifts — giving workers a cash incentive to come to work even if they were sick.
Ms. Hauter added: “Congress must also take action against deadly practices at meat corporations. Any stimulus bill must include provisions that protect the workers in processing plants. Congress must pass a moratorium and rescission of line speed waivers, and also mandate an audit of the USDA’s failures to protect workers during the pandemic. Further, the next Congress must call Tyson executives to testify before an oversight hearing into the malicious behavior of their plant managers in Waterloo.”