On April 20, Isidro Fernandez, a worker at a Tyson Foods slaughterhouse, passed away from COVID-19. A lawsuit filed by Fernandez’s family alleges not only that Tyson Foods failed to protect its employees from the disease but that a plant manager organized a betting pool on how many workers would contract COVID-19.
The processing plant—which is located in Waterloo, Iowa—has around 2,800 workers and processes more than 19,000 pigs a day. Amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, the Waterloo plant remained open for nearly two weeks after local officials requested that it temporarily shut down. According to the lawsuit, Tyson Foods downplayed the spread of the disease and went as far as offering bonuses for workers who came in and finished their shifts—even if they were sick. The complaint touches on the working conditions:
At least one worker at the facility vomited on the production line and management allowed him to continue working and return to work the next day.
The lawsuit claims that working conditions at the Waterloo plant were so abysmal that a local sheriff said they “shook” him “to the core.” The family also alleges that as workers began to fall ill, a plant manager organized a “cash buy-in, winner take all” betting pool on how many workers would test positive for COVID-19. The complaint details the lack of safety at the plant:
By late-March or early April, Supervisory Defendants and most managers at the Waterloo Facility started to avoid the plant floor because they were afraid of contracting the virus.
According to the lawsuit, over 20 employees ended up in the local hospital’s emergency room by April 12. The family alleges that in spite of this, supervisors were told to show up to work—even when exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms. The complaint even alleges that one manager stopped another from leaving, saying, “We all have symptoms—you have a job to do.”
The Waterloo plant temporarily shut down by April 22, after all the dead pigs in its cooler were processed. So far, five workers from the plant have died. Currently, Black Hawk County, where the plant is located, has reported more than 9,600 cases of COVID-19 and 120 deaths. The complaint claims that more than 1,000 of the infections have been linked to Tyson Foods employees.
Tyson is opposing the lawsuit and claims to have taken internal measures to address concerns.
Mercy For Animals knows that the abuse of animals and the oppression of factory farm workers are interconnected. We must dismantle all aspects of the cruel meat industry and stand up for everyone who suffers at its hands—especially during a pandemic. By no longer supporting this cruel industry, we can help create a better world for all. Download our free Vegetarian Starter Guide to learn how you can start adding delicious plant-based meals to your routine.