As state officials and lawmakers urged the shutdown of a Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Iowa, managers at the plant reportedly placed bets on how many would end up getting sick.
That is one of the many new allegations leveled against Tyson Foods in an amended lawsuit filed Wednesday. The corporation kept its Waterloo, Iowa plant open even as local officials urged for its shutdown early in the pandemic.
As a result, around 1,000 employees contracted COVID-19, five of whom died. That includes Isidro Fernandez, whose family filed the suit against the meat empire earlier this year.
Per KWWL-TV in Waterloo, which obtained a copy of the amended lawsuit, managers at the plant repeatedly downplayed the severity of COVID-19 at the plant to both supervisors and processing workers.
While supervisors were aware of the virus, avoiding the plant floor, they denied the existence of “confirmed cases” at the plant to workers.
One manager, John Casey, directed supervisors to ignore symptoms of COVID-19 to continue to work, and allegedly urged supervisors to direct their staff to do the same. Casey also reportedly likened coronavirus to a “glorified flu.”
In April, Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson publicly expressed concern over the Tyson plant remaining open. Around this time, per the suit, plant manager Tom Hart allegedly began organizing the “winner-take-all” betting ring among managers and supervisors over how many employees would get sick from COVID-19.
From April:Officials urge Tyson Foods to shut down plant after employees test positive for COVID-19
A week later, over 620 people in the county had tested positive for COVID-19 and seven had died. Ninety percent of the deaths, Black Hawk County Health Department director Dr. Nafissa Cisse Egbuonye said at the time, were linked to the Tyson plant.
The company also offered “thank you bonuses” of $500 for employees who attended every shift they were assigned for a period of three months.
Consequently, workers, per the suit, also would artificially lower their temperatures in order to continue working even if they were ill. One worker at the Waterloo branch, per the suit, “vomited on the production line” and was granted permission to continue working.
Per the Iowa Capital Dispatch, the company reportedly kept its plant open under the direction of President Donald Trump, who declared meatpacking plants “essential” in late April.
A USA TODAY investigation from April found that 1 in 3 of the nation’s largest meat processing plants, including those owned by Tyson, operated in counties with high rates of COVID-19 infections.
As of Thursday, Black Hawk County reported more than 9,600 cases and 120 deaths.
Representatives from Tyson Foods did not immediately respond to a request for comment from USA TODAY.
Follow Joshua Bote on Twitter: @joshua_bote.