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Lawsuit alleges Tyson meat plant managers gambled on how many workers would get COVID

Lawsuit alleges Tyson meat plant managers gambled on how many workers would get COVID

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Donald Trump’s massive failures in confronting the COVID-19 pandemic may seem perplexing at first.

After all, how could it have possibly been in his interest to oversee such an incompetent response to an outbreak of a disease that resulted in a quarter of a million American deaths?

When viewed through the lens of traditional Republican prioritization of the needs of corporations and big businesses over that of the average working person, however, Trump’s strategy in dealing with the pandemic crosses the line from mere incompetence to malicious evil.

Fearful of losing his primary re-election talking point about a burgeoning economy because of the business closures associated with widespread lockdowns, Trump downplayed the dangers of the virus and allowed those considered to be essential workers to become cannon fodder in the retreat from fighting the pandemic in the manner recommended by infectious disease experts.

Trump’s ego and personal ambition — combined with the greed of corporate interests — has led us to the massive resurgence of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations that have strained our health care system, and deaths that the United States is now experiencing, placing our nation at the top of the list in the total number of coronavirus cases.

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If you have any doubt about that preceding analysis, perhaps this story that took place at the Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Waterloo, Iowa, will persuade you that the only conspiracy surrounding the pandemic is the one being conducted by the Republican party and their wealthy corporate donors looking to preserve their privilege and bank accounts during this crisis.

A new lawsuit brought by the son of a worker at the pork plant who died of the virus that he likely contracted on the job alleges that in addition to forcing employees at the plant to work in risky and unsafe conditions during the pandemic, managers and supervisors wagered cash bets with each other over how many of their workers would contract COVID-19.

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If that sounds like a heartless and callous form of gambling with the lives of others, then you are beginning to understand the depth of the immorality inherent in the COVID denialism that has been the Trump administration’s credo since the first case was detected in this country back in January.

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The deaths of at least five employees from the virus have been reported at the Waterloo facility since the start of the outbreak and 20 others have died at other Tyson plants across the country.

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According to the lawsuit filed by the son of Isidro Fernandez, a Tyson employee who passed away from his infection in April, supervisors, led by plant manager Tom Hart, put together a “cash buy-in, winner-take-all betting pool” wagering on how many workers would receive positive diagnoses for COVID-19.

Mind you that this is in a plant where a supervisor allegedly echoed Donald Trump’s lies that the coronavirus was just a “glorified flu” and that “it’s not a big deal; everyone is going to get it” when workers expressed their workplace safety worries.

The lawsuit also alleges that in addition to their devilish betting pool, managers pressured line workers to continue working even if they exhibited visible symptoms of the disease.

“At least one worker at the facility vomited on the production line and management allowed him to continue working and return to work the next day,” the lawsuit claims.

“Defendant John Casey explicitly directed supervisors to ignore symptoms of COVID-19. Mr. Casey told supervisors they had to show up to work, even if they were exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, and he directed supervisors to make their direct reports come to work, even if those direct reports were showing symptoms of COVID-19,” the filing also states.

“On one occasion, Mr. Casey intercepted a sick supervisor en-route to get tested and ordered the supervisor to get back to work, adding, ‘we all have symptoms—you have a job to do,’” the lawsuit accuses one supervisor of saying.

The situation on the plant floor reportedly became so dangerous that many managers refused to go into the main workspace in the facility for fear of getting infected themselves.

“Consequently, as the virus spread through the plant, the Supervisory Defendants and other managers increasingly delegated managerial authority and responsibilities to low-level supervisors with no management training or experience,” the lawsuit alleges.

The suit goes on to detail a lack of protective measures taken by Tyson to protect its workers, an accusation that the company refuted in an email to Gizmodo, which reported on the story while refusing to otherwise comment on the lawsuit.

The pressure of monied interests to maintain their cash flow during the pandemic, not the desire to protect the lives of the greatest number of American citizens, seems to be the main motivator of the Trump administration’s anemic pandemic response.

While Donald Trump has seemingly gotten his rebuke for his failures through his loss of the presidential election, there is no way to bring back the people lost due to his evil prioritization of lucre over lives.

One thing is certain: unless the Democrats can retake the Senate by winning both seats up for grabs in the January Georgia runoff elections, President-elect Biden will face a recalcitrant GOP-controlled legislative chamber blocking any moves to address the pandemic with the seriousness and coordinated federal response that it requires.

Even worse, it’s still possible that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) can hold the pandemic economic stimulus bill hostage unless it includes a provision giving immunity to businesses that would hold companies like Tyson harmless in any type of lawsuit holding them accountable for their failures to properly protect their employees from the risk of contracting COVID.

Every progressive should turn their attention to ensuring victories for Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in Georgia, or we will suffer at least another two years of Republican obstructionism and the primacy of corporate interests over that of the American people.

Follow Vinnie Longobardo on Twitter. 

Original reporting by Matt Novack at Gizmodo.

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Vinnie Longobardo
Managing Editor
Vinnie Longobardo is the Managing Editor of Occupy Democrats. He's a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music, and art.

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