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Tyson Managers Allegedly Bet on How Many Meat Plant Workers Would Get COVID-19

Plus, the New York Times calls for a restaurant bailout, and more news to start your day

A billboard that reads “Thank you to Community Essential Workers, we’re all in this together!” from Tyson Foods Shutterstock
Jaya Saxena is a Correspondent at, and the series editor of Best American Food and Travel Writing. She explores wide ranging topics like labor, identity, and food culture.

A lawsuit alleges managers at a Waterloo, Iowa plant ignored safety concerns, while holding a betting pool on how many workers would get sick

According to a truly stomach-churning report by the Iowa Capital Dispatch on a wrongful death lawsuit against Tyson Foods, managers at a pork processing plant in Waterloo, Iowa allegedly dismissed COVID-19 safety concerns, forced sick workers to continue working, and had a betting pool on how many workers at the plant would get sick. At least five Waterloo plant employees have died of the virus this year.

The lawsuit filed by the family of Isidoro Fernandez claims that plant manager Tom 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.” Meanwhile, the suit states that other managers told concerned employees that COVID-19 was a “glorified flu,” and that “everyone was going to get it.” Managers also allegedly began avoiding the plant as COVID-19 spread across Iowa, while incentivizing workers to show up even if they were sick by offering bonuses for showing up to every scheduled shift.

The Waterloo plant became a microcosm for the battle between meat packing workers, whose working conditions led to contracting COVID-19 at high levels, and corporate owners. In April, Tony Thompson, the Sheriff of Waterloo, Iowa ,told Rachel Maddow that Tyson displayed “inept, reactionary and dysfunctional responses” to the pandemic. He later told Eater that working conditions at the plant were atrocious, and, as Caleb Pershan reported, “only a third of workers wore face coverings...some with bandanas and eye masks over their mouths instead of appropriate masks.” Thompson had urged Tyson to close the plant, but the company refused. By May, 1,031 of the plant’s 2,800 workers had contracted COVID.

Tyson claimed it was just following orders, as in April, Trump signed an executive order invoking the “Defense Production Act” and saying meat processing plants should stay open despite the public health risks. According to Tyson, the plant needed to stay open to feed the country. However, “the company increased its exports to China by 600% during the first quarter of 2020,” the lawsuit alleges. But, according to an amicus brief filed by Public Citizen in support of the lawsuit, “neither the Executive Order nor any subsequent action by USDA required Tyson to do, or not do, anything pertinent to this case.”

And in other news...

  • Thanks to Florida’s passage of a $15 minimum wage, &pizza says all workers will earn $15/hr by 2022. [RBO]
  • Starbucks is also giving all workers a pay raise of at least 10% because of the law, and because of President-Elect Joe Biden’s call for a $15 minimum wage across the country. [BI]
  • The New York Times editorial board is calling on the Senate to pass federal aid for restaurants. “What the public interest requires for now is a suspension of indoor dining in areas where the virus is spreading, combined with federal aid to keep restaurants in business.” [NYTimes]
  • More Black former McDonald’s franchisees have joined the class action lawsuit alleging the company discriminated against them and favored white franchisees. [RB]
  • Tips on how to organize a Thanksgiving food swap, so you can get a whole meal without having to cook it yourself, or having to be indoors with people who aren’t part of your household. [WaPo]
  • Unilever is targeting $1 billion in sales of plant-based meat in the next few years. [Bloomberg]
  • Dunkin franchisees in California are suing over the state’s AB5 law, saying it falsely classifies them as employees of Dunkin, rather than owners of a business. [Fox Business]
  • Google says Monday mornings are the best for grocery shopping. [Delish]
  • We all have at least one relative with a mystery kitchen: