In April, as the true danger of the coronavirus became abundantly clear to most Americans, food processing plants across the country continued to operate. With large teams of workers, often operating in cramped conditions in order to keep Americans’ grocery aisles brimming, the plants also became early hubs for transmission of the virus. Workers and unions complained unsafe conditions were jeopardizing the health of low-income workers, many of whom are immigrants. At one Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Waterloo, Iowa, six workers ultimately died from the virus. The company is facing a number of wrongful death lawsuits over its conduct during the pandemic. One new allegation is particularly chilling. An amended complaint filed this week accuses supervisors at the Tyson plant not only of keeping the plant open with dubious safety protocols—they then placed bets on the number of workers that would contract the virus.
A plant manager “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,” according to the suit. By the end of April, the outbreak had grown severe enough that the company closed the plant for two weeks. More than 1,000 of the 2,800 workers at the Waterloo plant tested positive for the virus at the time. The allegation of supervisors betting on workers contracting the virus is part of a wrongful death suit filed by the family of plant worker Isidro Fernandez, who died in April due to complications from the virus. The suit alleges that workers were forced to work long hours in tight quarters without adequate social distancing and no personal protective equipment in order to stay safe.