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Nation & World

Lawsuit Reveals Tyson Managers Took Bets On How Many Workers Would Get COVID-19

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Meatpacking facilities have been hard hit by the pandemic. That includes Tyson Foods' largest pork plant in Iowa. The facility was temporarily shut down in April because of an outbreak. And by the time it reopened the following month, a thousand workers had reportedly tested positive. Turns out now, according to a lawsuit, managers took bets on how many workers would get infected even as they took measures to protect themselves. Clark Kauffman of the Iowa Capital Dispatch first reported this story, and he joins us now. Good morning, Clark.

CLARK KAUFFMAN: Good morning.

MARTIN: Can you just start off by telling us a little bit about the family that has filed this suit?

KAUFFMAN: You know, we don't know too much about the family. We know very little. But it's basically the lawsuit has been filed by the family of a former plant worker by the name of Isidro Fernandez. We don't know how old he was or how long he worked at the plant. That hasn't been part of the lawsuit. There hasn't been anything that's been publicized, though. We do know that he left behind a wife and a son, and they are the ones who initiated the lawsuit on his behalf.

MARTIN: Wow. So he passed away from the virus.

KAUFFMAN: Yes. He died April 26, allegedly after contracting the virus in the plant.

MARTIN: So let's talk about the substance of the suit and this alleged betting pool. What can you tell us?

KAUFFMAN: Well, the lawsuit, which was initially filed in the summer, was just recently revised just this past week to include a new set of allegations. And it basically alleges that Tyson is guilty of fraudulent misrepresentation and gross negligence for requiring employees to work long hours in cramped conditions without the appropriate protective equipment and without ensuring social distancing. But the most striking allegation is that in mid-April, the plant manager, a man by the name of Tom Hart, organized a cash buy-in winner-take-all betting pool in which supervisors and managers at the plant wagered money on how many of their employees would ultimately test positive for COVID-19.

MARTIN: That's hard to hear. So not only were their employees being put at risk because of lax safety protocols, but this betting pool, I mean, that's just cruel. Is Tyson saying anything about this?

KAUFFMAN: Well, the allegations were made in a court filing nine days ago, but it wasn't until yesterday after the allegations were first publicized that the company said anything about it. At that time, the CEO, Dean Banks, said he was extremely upset about the allegations, said they do not represent the company's core values. He went on to say that Tyson's retained a law firm to conduct an investigation. And the investigation will actually be led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. In addition to that, Banks said the company has suspended without pay the individuals who were allegedly involved in all this.

MARTIN: Just briefly, what does the family want? What change do they want?

KAUFFMAN: They haven't specified specific damages, but of course, they're - the lawsuit seeks damages for the gross negligence and misrepresentation that's being alleged, but no particular dollar amounts have been specified.

MARTIN: Clark Kauffman of the Iowa Capital Dispatch, thanks so much for sharing your reporting with us. We appreciate it.

KAUFFMAN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLOUDKICKER'S "EXPLORE, BE CURIOUS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.