Before he died of COVID-19 last year, Arthur Scott of Waterloo worked at a Tyson Foods factory that makes dog treats.
Despite this, Tyson says he cannot be prosecuted in state court for contributing to Scott’s death as the company was trying to secure the country’s food supply and critical infrastructure when it maintained the factory opened. So far, this argument seems to work.
Last month, the Scott family’s case, like several others before it, was transferred from state court to federal court. Action in most of these cases has been stayed while a federal appeals court decides whether to prosecute or be referred to the court in the state they came from.
Currently, there are lawsuits involving at least 49 Tyson employees who have died or been injured by COVID-19, allegedly after contracting the virus at work.
Arguing that his response to the pandemic was dictated in part by the actions of former President Donald Trump, the US Department of Agriculture and the US Department of Homeland Security, Tyson claims that the claims of death and Wrongful injuries involve questions of federal law that must be decided by the Federal Court.
The company says that while remaining open during the pandemic and pushing for factory workers to produce products, it was responding to Trump’s order to keep the meat packing plants operating, adding that she “worked hand in hand with federal officials” to secure America’s food supply.
Complainants highlight Tyson’s exports to China
Lawyers for several of the plaintiffs suing the company argued in court that despite these allegations, Tyson processed so much meat during the pandemic that he was able to export products to China.
In fact, according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of three deceased former employees of the Waterloo plant, Tyson’s exports to China increased 600% in the first quarter of 2020. As of April 2020, the company reportedly exported 1,289 tonnes of pork to China, its largest monthly total in three years.
When it comes to the production of Tyson’s pet products, the Independence plant has remained open even after Governor Kim Reynolds issued a proclamation in March 2020 shutting down non-essential businesses. “Perhaps sensing the tenuous nature of his claim that making dog treats was essential, employees received a letter to take with them stating that their work was essential,” says the Scott family lawsuit.
The lawsuit also claims that an employee who called human resources to ask if it was safe to work was told he had a better chance of getting COVID-19 while shopping at Walmart than going to work.
Although a federal judge found no basis for Tyson’s claim that he was “acting on the direction of federal agents,” referring some of the cases to state court, Tyson appealed against the ruling. in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which ordered a stay of certain cases until the jurisdictional issue can be determined.
New Texas liability shield could derail workers’ case
In Texas, however, a lawsuit by 38 Tyson workers allegedly ill or killed by the virus is pending in federal court, with a judge having previously ruled that Tyson was “acting under the direction of federal officials” during the pandemic.
Lawyers for the company are now calling for the case to be dismissed, citing the Texas governor’s recent approval of the Pandemic Liability Protection Act, a state law that protects companies from liability for the exposure of workers to COVID-19. In court records, Tyson acknowledges that the law retroactively imposes a “heavy burden” on workers, requiring them to present “reliable scientific evidence” that their employer’s conduct caused their infections.
In addition to the wrongful death allegations, Tyson executives also face lawsuits from shareholders who claim that company executives breached their fiduciary duty by failing to protect frontline workers and by doing misrepresentation about the risks associated with the pandemic.
Two of the lawsuits, both filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, claim Tyson pressured the government to view meat packaging as an ‘essential’ business that could remain open. , then ran ads warning Americans that the food supply chain was in danger, while exporting products to China.
At the same time, according to the lawsuits, workers were allowed to wear face covers such as bandanas and sleep masks as “protective” gear, and the company provided financial incentives to employees to have them. show up for work even if they were sick. In December 2020, Tyson reportedly recorded three times as many COVID-19 cases and twice as many deaths as other meat packers.
Shareholder lawsuits allege that last year Noel White, former CEO of Tyson and now executive vice chairman of the board, received $ 10.9 million. Dean Banks, President and CEO of Tyson, was reportedly paid $ 12.7 million, including a bonus of $ 5 million.
The lawsuits accuse Tyson executives of unjust enrichment, gross mismanagement and waste of company assets. The defendants have denied the allegations.
Here’s a look at the 49 people, or their estates, who sued Tyson Foods over COVID-19-related injuries or deaths:
- Sedika Buljic, Waterloo: Buljic was an employee of the Tyson factory in Waterloo. She died on April 18, 2020 from complications from COVID-19.
- Reberiano Garcia, Waterloo: Garcia was a Tyson Foods employee working at the Waterloo facility. He died on April 23, 2020 from complications from COVID-19.
- José Ayala, Waterloo: Ayala was an employee of the Waterloo regime and died on May 25, 2020 of complications from COVID-19.
- Isidro Fernández, Waterloo: Fernandez was a Tyson Foods employee working at the Waterloo facility. He died on April 26, 2020 of complications from COVID-19
- Pedro Cano Rodriguez, Columbus crossroads: Rodriguez was a Tyson employee at the company’s Columbus Junction plant. He died intestate on April 14, 2020, at the age of 51.
- James Orvis, Waterloo: Orvis worked in the laundry room at the Tyson factory in Waterloo. He died on April 19, 2020 from COVID-19.
- Arthur Scott, Independence: Scott was a 51-year-old employee of Tyson’s pet products factory in Independence. He passed away on April 23, 2020.
- Brian Barker, Philadelphia, PA: On April 23, 2020, Barker died of respiratory failure after contracting COVID-19. At the time, he was the Meat Packing Supervisor at Tyson Foods’ Original Philly Cheesesteak Co. meat packing plant in Philadelphia. Although Barker is over 60 and suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure, Tyson reportedly ordered him to take the temperatures of employees entering the factory on April 2, 2020. He died within three weeks.
- Jose Angel Chavez and Thomas David Cowan, Texas: Cowan worked at a Tyson factory in Sherman, Texas, and Chavez worked at a Tyson factory in Center, Texas.
- Rolandette Glenn, Texas: Glenn was working at the Tyson plant in Center, Texas when she contracted COVID-19. She survived but claims she suffers serious injuries to her respiratory system and lungs.
- Amarillo workers: This lawsuit was filed on behalf of 38 employees at the Tyson plant in Amarillo, Texas. Thirty-seven of the workers say they contracted COVID-19 at the plant. The 38th complainant, Maung Maung Tar, allegedly contracted the virus at the factory and died. Last month, a federal judge ruled that Tyson had “acted under the direction of federal officials” when they kept the plant open, and dismissed the workers’ request to have the case heard in a US court. State.