Thirty-four current and former employees of several Tyson Foods meatpacking facilities in Arkansas have filed a lawsuit against the company for alleged mistreatment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the suit filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court, the plaintiffs allege that Tyson chose not to take proper protective precautions in regards to the virus and chose profits over its workers’ well-being.
“In the face of rampant illness and death, Tyson asked its workers to sacrifice their health and lives to meet 3 production goals,” the plaintiffs argue. “Tyson’s decisions to force its employees to work in these conditions caused extreme emotional distress to Tyson workers and their family members.”
Tyson did not provide masks or allow for workplace modifications that would have allowed for social distancing, the lawsuit claims. The employees seek damages for the emotional distress and physical damages caused by Tyson’s actions.
When contacted by Food Dive, Tyson spokesperson Derek Burleson declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Since the early days of the pandemic in 2020, meatpacking plants were a hotbed for the spread of the virus. Nearly 60,000 employees at meat facilities contracted COVID-19 and 269 died, a 2021 House subcommittee report said. Lawmakers have criticized meatpacking companies on how they handled their operations during this period of time.
The lawsuit follows other legal filings from employees alleging that Tyson did not protect the safety of its workers when COVID-19 spread at its factories.
A federal appeals court reinstated a civil case against the meat giant filed by 41 workers, and the estate of a worker who died, last October. The lawsuit alleges that Tyson behaved with gross negligence and was responsible for wrongful death by keeping its plant in Amarillo, Texas open in the early months of the pandemic. The appeals court argued that the federal government’s order to keep meat facilities open was not binding.
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Tyson’s appeals of two worker safety cases, which stem from the deaths of four workers at the company’s facilities in Waterloo, Iowa, as reported by Investigate Midwest. In a petition filed last July, Tyson’s argued that an executive order signed by former President Donald Trump in April 2020 gave the company the authority to remain open.
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