WATERLOO, Iowa (KWWL) -- Tyson Foods, Inc. is suspending several supervisors of the company's pork plant in Waterloo that are named in a recently amended wrongful death lawsuit, the company announced in a statement Thursday afternoon.
Tyson said the Waterloo plant was operating throughout the day, but a spokesperson said allowed time between shifts to hold a meeting outside the plant with employees.
Tyson Foods, Inc. President & CEO Dean Banks was at the facility throughout the day to speak with employees about the actions the company is taking.
Plant Manager Tom Hart, Safety Lead Bret Tapken, as well as Cody Brustkern and John Casey, who hold "upper-level management positions" at the Tyson Waterloo Plant have all been suspended without pay.
The lawsuit alleges Hart organized a cash buy-in, winner-take-all, betting pool for supervisors and managers to wager how many plant employees would test positive for COVID-19.
In April, Black Hawk County Health officials said more than one thousand workers at the plant have been infected with COVID-19. In the spring, health officials said the plant was responsible for 90% of COVID-19 cases in Black Hawk County. 5 of the plant workers have died from the virus.
Casey is alleged to have explicitly directed supervisors to ignore symptoms of COVID-19 while referring to the virus as the "glorified flu" and told workers not to worry about it because "it's not a big deal" and "everyone is going to get it." The lawsuit also alleges on one occasion, Casey intercepted a sick supervisor who was on his way to be tested and ordered him to get back to work, saying "we all have symptoms - you have a job to do."
In its statement, the company says it has retained the law firm Covington & Burling LLP to conduct an independent investigation into the allegations. Tyson says that investigation will be led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
The full Thursday statement from Tyson is below:
“We are extremely upset about the accusations involving some of the leadership at our Waterloo plant. Tyson Foods is a family company with 139,000 team members and these allegations do not represent who we are, or our Core Values and Team Behaviors. We expect every team member at Tyson Foods to operate with the utmost integrity and care in everything we do. We have suspended, without pay, the individuals allegedly involved and have retained the law firm Covington & Burling LLP to conduct an independent investigation led by former Attorney General Eric Holder. If these claims are confirmed, we’ll take all measures necessary to root out and remove this disturbing behavior from our company. Our top priority is and remains the health and safety of our team members. We’ve invested hundreds of millions of dollars to transform our U.S. facilities, including the Waterloo plant, with protective measures, from walk-through temperature scanners and workstation dividers to social distance monitors and always-on testing.”Tyson Foods President & CEO Dean Banks
In a previous statement sent to KWWL on Wednesday evening, the company said, "Our top priority is the health and safety of our workers and we’ve implemented a host of protective measures at Waterloo and our other facilities that meet or exceed CDC and OSHA guidance for preventing COVID-19."
Alejandro Murguia-Ortiz is a community organizer at American Friends Service Committee Iowa and Iowa Justice for Our Neighbors. Both of his parents work at meat processing plants in Western Iowa. Since the pandemic began, 10 members of his family who work in meat processing plants have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Murguia-Ortiz has been advocating to improve conditions for workers at meat processing plants. He said the allegations in the newsroom were shocking but not surprising.
"We have known about this culture within this industry of minimizing concerns, lack of safety and the influence they have," he said. "The allegations in this case, and the information that was provided, even the response from Tyson, are all very much in line with what we've been seeing and what we've been expecting."
Governor Reynolds was asked about the lawsuit during her press conference on Thursday. Reynolds declined to comment on the lawsuit specifically but praised the work the state has done to help meat processing plants like Tyson Waterloo during the pandemic.
"We knew that if we were gonna continue to keep the food supply chain moving and keep food on the table, we needed to figure out a way to work with these facilities to help provide them the information they need to protect their workforce," she said.
The full lawsuit can be found here:
To read our previous coverage on COVID-19 in Tyson plants across Iowa, click here.