Tyson Foods has fired seven plant management employees after an independent investigation into claims that leaders at the company bet on how many workers would become infected with COVID-19, the company announced Wednesday. The allegations against managers at the Waterloo, Iowa, plant were part of a lawsuit filed by the son of an employee who died of the coronavirus in April.
“We value our people and expect everyone on the team, especially our leaders, to operate with integrity and care in everything we do,” Tyson Foods President and CEO Dean Banks said in a statement. “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. Now that the investigation has concluded, we are taking action based on the findings.”
The lawsuit, filed in early November, alleges that 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 further claims that supervisors were directed to “ignore symptoms of COVID-19,” and workers were encouraged to come to work even if they showed symptoms of the virus. The suit also alleges the company failed to provide adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and didn’t implement proper social distancing measures.
CBS News previously reported that Tyson has denied many of the lawsuit’s claims. When asked about the lawsuit on Wednesday, a spokesperson said the company is “saddened by the loss of any Tyson team member and sympathize with their families. Our top priority is the health and safety of our workers and we’ve implemented a host of protective measures at our facilities that meet or exceed CDC and OSHA guidance for preventing COVID-19.”
Tyson said it suspended the managers accused of wagering on COVID tests days after the lawsuit was filed, and hired former Attorney General Eric Holder to conduct an independent review of the claims.
This is not the only time the plant has faced controversy over its handling of COVID-19. In April, The Associated Press reported that local lawmakers were urging the plant to close, warning that the rapid transmission of the virus among workers was dangerous both to employees and to the community. At the time, meat plants around the country were emerging as hot spots of the virus.
Tyson temporarily closed the plant on April 22, and invited its 2,800 employees to get tested at the facility, CBS affiliate KCCI-TV reported. The company reopened two weeks later — and at that time, officials said more than 1,000 Tyson workers had been infected, according to AP.
A lawsuit filed earlier this month accused the company of discouraging interpreters from discussing the virus, other than to falsely claim that it was not a problem at the facility. A Tyson spokesperson declined to comment on that suit at the time.
Kate Gibson contributed to this report.