Interpreters were directed to tell meat plant workers there was no Covid risk when in fact health officials wanted to close the facility, according to an amended lawsuit against Tyson Foods’ pork plant in Waterloo, Iowa.
More than 1,000 workers were infected and at least five workers at the plant died of Covid-19, according to the federal suit against the company, as previously reported by Quota.
The new claims say that in early April this year Tyson officials summoned all interpreters at the plant to attend a closed-door meeting, during which they were directed to tell non-English speaking employees “everything is fine” and that the county health department had “cleared” the plant [as Covid-free].
Black Hawk County officials were, in fact, urging Tyson to close the Waterloo facility to protect workers and the surrounding community from the Covid-19 outbreak at the plant.
With the new spotlight on the company, Tyson has announced it is spending US$540 million on Covid protection at its US facilities including increased pay and benefits. It’s hiring a new chief medical officer and piloting health clinics for staff and their families.
The measures also include the strategic testing of workers without symptoms, walk-through temperature scanners and workstation dividers.
Johanna Söderström, executive vice president & chief human resources officer said, “We’ve learned a great deal during the pandemic.
“A new Covid-19 testing strategy enables us to move from defence to offence in our efforts to actively search for and fight the virus.”
A statement said Tyson now has almost 600 medical professionals on staff, screening for symptoms, testing and tracking cases to care for team members if they become ill.
According to the amended lawsuit, many of Tyson’s Waterloo employees are refugees and immigrants who speak and comprehend little or no English, so Tyson employs a large number of interpreters to communicate with them.
“We all have symptoms — you have a job to do”
The plant’s supervisors encouraged Covid-sick and symptomatic employees to continue working at the Waterloo facility, according to the suit. 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.
On at least one occasion, an employee was told to keep working even after he tested positive for the virus.
Manager John Casey explicitly directed supervisors to ignore symptoms of Covid-19. On one occasion, Mr Casey intercepted a sick supervisor en-route to get tested and ordered the supervisor to get back to work, adding, “we all have symptoms—you have a job to do.”
The suits adds that Tyson executives successfully lobbied, or directed others to lobby, Iowa’s Governor Kimberly Reynolds to issue an executive order that only the state government, not local governments, had the authority to close businesses in Northeast Iowa, including the Tyson Waterloo facility.
It adds that Tyson executives began lobbying the White House for Covid-19 related liability protections as early as March. Tyson officials dined at the White House and participated in several calls with President Trump and Vice President Pence during March and April.
The supervisors falsely told workers they had a responsibility to keep working to ensure Americans didn’t go hungry and falsely told workers they would be notified if they had been in contact with an employee with confirmed to have Covid-19.