Tyson fires 7 at the Iowa pig factory after investigating betting on COVID

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) – Tyson Foods has fired seven top executives at the largest pork factory after an independent investigation confirmed allegations they were betting on how many workers would test positive for the corona virus, the company announced Wednesday.

The company said the investigation, led by former US Attorney General Eric Holder, revealed troubling behavior that resulted in the layoffs at the Waterloo, Iowa plant. An outbreak around the factory infected more than 1,000 workers, at least six of whom died.

“We value our people and expect everyone on the team, especially our leaders, to act with integrity and diligence in everything we do,” Dean Banks, president and CEO of Tyson Foods said in a statement. “The behavior displayed by these individuals does not represent Tyson’s core values, so we have taken immediate and appropriate action to find out the truth.”

Banks traveled to the factory in Waterloo on Wednesday to discuss the actions with employees.

Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said the company will not release detailed findings of the investigation or the names of the layoffs, citing privacy issues.

“We can tell you that Mr. Holder and his team looked specifically at the gambling allegations and found enough evidence to end those involved,” he said.

Tyson suspended several top executives last month and chose the law firm Covington & Burling LLP, where Holder is a partner, to conduct the investigation.

Former maintenance manager Cody Brustkern said he was cooperating with the investigation, but was fired from his 10-year job on Tuesday night without explanation. He said executives were “protecting their brand” from their old managers.

“The way this was handled was very disappointing,” he said. ‘I still don’t know why I was fired. It’s crazy. “

Lawyers for the families of four deceased Waterloo employees allege in lawsuits that plant manager Tom Hart organized a buy-in bet for supervisors to bet on what percentage of factory workers would test positive for COVID-19.

Hart is said to have hosted the pool last spring when the virus spread through the Waterloo factory and the wider Waterloo community.

A former supervisor described the bet to prosecutors’ attorneys, saying he and nine others each put $ 10 into the pool while massive tests of the workers took place. The winner who pulled a sheet of paper with the correct percentage from a hat received the $ 100 payout.

Mel Orchard, a lawyer for the families of the deceased workers, said the layoffs confirm the authenticity of some of the “grisly” allegations in the lawsuits. He said Tyson was “gambling with workers’ lives” by downplaying the virus and failing to provide adequate security measures.

“I’m thankful they might get to the bottom of it, but it’s way too late for some people,” he said. “I hope Eric Holder stays in this case and continues to investigate the real problem: how come over a thousand workers in one factory got sick and many died?”

The lawsuits allege that factory managers have pressured workers to keep working even when they are sick, and that the company has waited too long to close the factory to stop the outbreak.

Managers told workers they had a responsibility to stay on the job to make sure Americans didn’t go hungry, even as they started avoiding the factory floor themselves because they were afraid of contracting the virus.

The lawsuits cite Hart, Brustkern, managers John Casey and Bret Tapken and HR director James Hook as defendants. Attempts to reach Hart, Casey, Tapken, and Hook were not immediately successful.

Tyson vowed on Wednesday to open more avenues for employees to communicate concerns, create a working group to strengthen collaboration with community leaders and strengthen the importance of his values. Banks said Holder’s team would help “look for ways to strengthen a trusted and respectful workplace.”

The steps come as Tyson faces ongoing scrutiny of his COVID-19 response and a debate about whether Congress and the states should protect businesses from legal liability associated with infected employees and customers.

New York City Comptroller Scott Stinger called on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday to investigate whether Tyson has made misleading disclosures to investors about his pandemic response.

“There is a human cost to Tyson’s failure – avoidable deaths, hospital admissions and sick employees. These failures have a material impact on the business activities that pose serious risks to shareholders, ”he said.

Separately, the family of another Tyson Foods employee alleges in a lawsuit that he died of COVID-19 after the meat-processing giant failed to implement safety protocols to protect against the coronavirus at the Storm Lake, Iowa, plant where he worked.

Michael Everhard, 65, of Fonda, died of COVID-19 on June 18, three weeks after being diagnosed with the virus. His family claims he got infected at the Storm Lake factory where he worked for 27 years, The Sioux City Journal reported.

The lawsuit, filed by Everhard’s three children, states that Tyson and his managers required him and other employees to continue working in an environment rife with coronavirus and not implement security measures to protect them from contracting the virus Storm Lake attorney Willis says. Hamilton said.

Tyson spokeswoman Liz Croston said the company has implemented several measures at its facilities that meet or exceed federal guidelines to prevent or exceed the spread of COVID-19.