Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Workers process meat at a Tyson Foods chicken plant. (Photo: Gregory Smith/Corbis via Getty Images)

 Workers process meat at a Tyson Foods chicken plant. (Photo: Gregory Smith/Corbis via Getty Images)

'This Is Depraved': Tyson Food Managers Accused of Betting on How Many of Their Workers Would Get Covid-19

A lawsuit alleges that a boss at one facility "organized a cash-buy-in, winner-take-all, betting pool for supervisors and managers to wager how many plant employees would test positive."

Kenny Stancil

During the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, Tyson Foods supervisors bet money on how many workers at a pork processing plant in Iowa would be infected with the lethal coronavirus, according to allegations in a wrongful death lawsuit that critics say reveals the "breathtaking callousness" of corporate managers who put profits over people.

"In late March or early April, as the pandemic spread across Iowa, managers at the Waterloo plant reportedly began avoiding the plant floor for fear of contracting the virus." 
Iowa Capital Dispatch

"This is depraved," United Farm Workers said in a Twitter thread.

More than 1,000 employees at the company's facility in Waterloo—over one-third of the plant's workforce—"tested positive amid the outbreak, which eventually shut down the meat-processing plant and spurred harsh condemnations from local officials who said the company had failed to provide the necessary protections for its workforce," the Washington Post reported Thursday.

At least five Waterloo plant employees died as a result. 

Family members of Isidro Fernandez, who succumbed to the disease on April 26, sued Tyson earlier this year, accusing the meatpacking company of "willful and wanton disregard for workplace safety."

"Despite an uncontrolled Covid-19 outbreak, Tyson required its employees to work long hours in cramped conditions," the lawsuit alleges. "Moreover, despite the danger of Covid-19, Tyson failed to provide appropriate personal protective equipment and failed to implement sufficient social distancing or safety measures to protect workers from the outbreak."

While the suit was originally filed in Iowa state court in August, "an amended complaint with new allegations was filed on November 11," the Post reported. 

The Iowa Capital Dispatch detailed the startling new allegations against Tyson and managers at the Waterloo plant:

  • In mid-April, around the time Black Hawk County Sherriff Tony Thompson visited the plant and reported the working conditions there "shook [him] to the core," 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.
  • John Casey, an upper-level manager at the plant, is alleged to have explicitly directed supervisors to ignore symptoms of Covid-19, telling them to show up to work even if they were exhibiting symptoms of the virus. Casey reportedly referred to Covid-19 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." 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." After one employee vomited on the production line, managers reportedly allowed the man to continue working and then return to work the next day.
  • In late March or early April, as the pandemic spread across Iowa, managers at the Waterloo plant reportedly began avoiding the plant floor for fear of contracting the virus. As a result, they increasingly delegated managerial authority and responsibilities to low-level supervisors who had no management training or experience. The supervisors did not require truck drivers and subcontractors to have their temperatures checked before entering the plant.
  • In March and April, plant supervisors falsely denied the existence of any confirmed cases or positive tests for Covid-19 within the plant, and allegedly told workers they had a responsibility to keep working to ensure Americans didn't go hungry as the result of a shutdown.
  • Tyson paid out $500 "thank you bonuses" to employees who turned up for every scheduled shift for three months—a policy decision that allegedly incentivized sick workers to continue reporting for work.
  • Tyson executives allegedly lobbied Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds for Covid-19 liability protections that would shield the company from lawsuits, and successfully lobbied the governor to declare that only the state government, not local governments, had the authority to close businesses in response to the pandemic.

Critics in April, as Common Dreams reported at the time, called President Donald Trump's order to keep meatpacking plants open a "death sentence."

This recent lawsuit filed on behalf of a deceased worker claims that managers at Tyson "turned the risk into a game."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'Political Malpractice': House Democrats' Bill Wouldn't Add Dental to Medicare Until 2028

"I don't want to see it drawn out to as far as the House has proposed," Sen. Bernie Sanders said during a recent press call.

Jake Johnson ·


'How Many More Deaths Must It Take?' Barbados Leader Rips Rich Nations in Fierce UN Speech

"How many more variants of Covid-19 must arrive, how many more, before a worldwide plan for vaccinations will be implemented?"

Jake Johnson ·


To Avert Debt Ceiling Calamity, Democrats Urged to Finally Kill the Filibuster

"The solution is to blow up the filibuster at least for debt limit votes, just as Mitch blew it up to pack the Supreme Court for his big donors."

Jake Johnson ·


Biden Decries 'Outrageous' Treatment of Haitians at Border—But Keeps Deporting Them

"I'm glad to see President Biden speak out about the mistreatment of Haitian asylum-seekers. But his administration's use of Title 42 to deny them the right to make an asylum claim is a much bigger issue."

Jessica Corbett ·


Global Peace Activists Warn of Dangers of US-Led Anti-China Pacts

"No to military alliances and preparation for catastrophic wars," anti-war campaigners from over a dozen nations write in a letter decrying the new AUKUS agreement. "Yes to peace, disarmament, justice, and the climate."

Brett Wilkins ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo