IOWA CITY, Iowa – Tyson Foods has fired seven top executives at its largest pork plant after an independent investigation confirmed allegations that predicted how many workers would have a positive result on the coronavirus, the company said Wednesday.
The company said an investigation led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder revealed worrying behavior that resulted in fire at the Waterloo plant in Iowa. The epidemic around the plant has infected more than 1,000 workers, at least six of whom have died.
“We value our people and expect all members of the team, especially our leaders, to act impeccably and prudently in everything we do,” Dean Banks, President and CEO of Tyson Foods, said in a statement. “The behavior of these individuals does not represent Tyson’s core values, so we have taken immediate and appropriate steps to achieve the truth.”
The banks traveled to the Waterloo plant on Wednesday to discuss the measures with employees.
Gary Mickelson, a spokesman for Tyson, said the company did not disclose the details of the investigation or the names of those laid off, citing privacy concerns.
“We can say that Mr. Holder and his team specifically investigated the allegations about the game and found enough evidence to eliminate those involved,” he said.
Tyson suspended several senior officials last month and maintained the law firm Covington & Burling LLP, where Holder is a partner, to conduct the investigation.
Former maintenance manager Cody Brustkern said he had cooperated with the investigation but was fired from his ten-year job without explanation on Tuesday night. He says leaders “protect their brand” over their long-term leaders.
“Dealing with this was very disappointing,” he said. “I still don’t know why he was fired.” This is crazy.”
Lawyers for the families of four deceased Waterloo workers claim in lawsuits that plant manager Tom Hart has organized a takeover bid for inspectors to bet on the percentage of plant workers who show a positive result for COVID-19.
Hart reportedly organized the pool last spring when the virus spread at the Waterloo plant and the wider Waterloo community.
A former supervisor described the reception to plaintiffs ’attorneys, saying he and nine others all put $ 10 into the pool while mass testing of workers took place. The winner who pulled an appropriate percentage of paper out of his hat received the $ 100 payout.
Mel Orchard, a lawyer for deceased working families, says the firings confirm the credibility of some of the “evil” allegations in the lawsuits. He said Tyson “played the lives of the workers” by downplaying the virus and not providing adequate security precautions.
“I’m grateful they might be coming to the end, but for some people it’s too late,” he said. “I hope Eric Holder will continue to pursue the case in this case: how can it be that more than a thousand employees of a plant have fallen ill and many have died?”
The lawsuits allege that plant managers forced employees to continue working, even due to illness, and that the company waited too long to shut down the plant to curb the epidemic.
Managers told workers they should remain responsible at work to ensure Americans were not hungry, even as they themselves began to avoid the plant floor because they feared infecting the virus.
The lawsuits call managers Hart, Brustkern, John Casey and Bret Tapken, and James Hook, director of human resources, accused. Attempts to reach Hart, Casey, Tapken, and Hook were not immediately successful.
Tyson vowed Wednesday to open up more avenues for employees to communicate concerns, set up a task force to strengthen collaboration with community leaders and reinforce the importance of its values. Banks say the Holder team will help “find a way to develop a confidential and respectful workplace.”
The steps come when Tyson is under constant scrutiny over COVID-19’s response and a debate over whether Congress and states should protect companies from legal liability to infected workers and customers.
New York inspector Scott Stinger on Tuesday called on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate whether Tyson provided misleading information to investors about the pandemic response.
“Tyson’s failures have human costs – preventable deaths, hospital care and sick workers. These failures have a significant impact on your business, which carries serious risks for shareholders, ”he said.
The family of another Tyson Foods employee in a separate lawsuit alleges he died in COVID-19 after the meat processing giant failed to implement safety protocols to protect against the coronavirus at the Storm Lake plant in Iowa where he worked.
Michael Everhard, 65, of the fonds, died on June 18 at COVID-19, three weeks after the virus was diagnosed. According to his family, he became infected at the Storm Lake plant, where he worked for 27 years, The Sioux City Journal wrote.
According to a lawsuit filed by Everhard’s three children, Tyson and his executives ordered him and other employees to continue working in the “coronavirus-flooded environment” and failed to take safety precautions to protect them from the virus, Willis Storm Lake, a lawyer, Hamilton said.
Tyson spokeswoman Liz Croston said the company has implemented a number of measures at its facilities that meet or exceed federal guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.