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

In this May 2020 file photo, Tyson’s Fresh Meat employees sign up for a tour of security measures in place after the Waterloo, Iowa plant had to close due to a COVID-19 outbreak. Lawyers for deceased workers ‘estates allege that the top official at Tyson Foods’ largest pig factory has created a pool for managers to bet on how many workers would become infected during a coronavirus outbreak.

Brandon Pollock | The courier | AP

Tyson Foods has fired seven top executives at its largest pork factory following an independent investigation into allegations that they bet on how many workers would test positive for the coronavirus, the company announced Wednesday.

The company said the investigation led by former U.S. 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,” said Dean Banks, president and CEO of Tyson Foods. “The behavior displayed by these individuals does not represent Tyson’s core values, so we took immediate and appropriate action to find out the truth.”

Banks traveled to the factory in Waterloo on Wednesday to discuss the actions with employees. The company has not released the names of the layoffs or detailed findings of the investigation.

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

Lawyers for the families of four deceased Waterloo employees allege in lawsuits that factory manager Tom Hart arranged a buy-in bet for supervisors to bet on how many employees would test positive for Covid-19.

Hart is said to have organized the pool last spring when the virus spread through the Waterloo factory. It eventually tore through the wider Waterloo community.

The lawsuits also allege that factory managers pressured workers to keep working, even through illness, and that the company 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 claim.

The lawsuits cite Hart, executives John Casey and Cody Brustkern, security manager Bret Tapken and HR director James Hook as defendants. They did not return messages asking for comment.

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 “explore ways to strengthen a trusted and respectful workplace.”

Separately, the family of a 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, from Fonda, died of Covid-19 on June 18, three weeks after being diagnosed with the virus. His family claims he became infected at the Storm Lake factory where he worked for 27 years, The Sioux City Journal reported.

The lawsuit, brought by Everhard’s three children, states that Tyson and his managers demanded that he and other employees continue to work in an environment “rife with coronavirus” and that they take no security measures to protect them from contracting the virus, says Storm Lake attorney Willis. Hamilton said.

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