DES MOINES, Iowa — For many organizations fighting for minority rights at meat packing plants the firing of seven managers at Tyson’s Waterloo plant was a long time coming. One organization says the road to justice may lead to the state Capitol. “There’s 500,000 workers in meat packing across the country. Seventy percent of those workers are brown and black,” said Joe Enriquez Henry who serves as National Vice-President of Forward Latino. Since last March he’s been hearing stories of poor working conditions from the Latino community. The news of seven Tyson managers accused in a lawsuit of taking part in an office pool that gambled on which employees would contract Covid-19 was astonishing. Henry said, “To the extent that they were betting on people’s lives, this was just terrible.”
Tyson President and CEO Dean Banks responded Wednesday saying “The behaviors exhibited by these individuals do not represent the Tyson core values, which is why we took immediate and appropriate action to get to the truth. Now that the investigation has concluded, we are taking action based on the findings.”
Tyson is also facing a lawsuit against its pork plant in Storm Lake where the family of 65 year old Michael Everhard claims he contracted Covid at work before dying of the virus in June. The suit alleges Tyson failed to protect Michael and other workers. “These workers are essential not expendable and for what they did was unconscionable so we need more justice,” Henry said.
Tyson Communications Manager Liz Croston responded with a statement saying “”we’re saddened by the loss of any Tyson team member and sympathize with their families. Our top priority is the health and safety of our workers and we’ve implemented a host of protective measures at our facilities that meet or exceed CDC and OSHA guidance for preventing Covid-19.”
Forward Latino along with other organizations tried to sound an alarm in July. A 49 page civil rights lawsuit against Keystone, JBS, Pilgrim’s Pride and Tyson alleging poor working conditions, and a lack of CDC and OSHA protocols. It was quickly denied by the United States Department of Agriculture. “What we found out from the Department of Agriculture later on is that they stated we did not have a case. But, take a look at this what happened at Tyson,” said Henry..
In April, President Donald Trump signed an executive order adding a layer of protection for businesses against Covid-19 lawsuits. In June, Governor Kim Reynolds signed a similar bill for the state of Iowa. Henry believes the Governor could protect her fellow Iowans with the simple stroke of her pen. “In order for justice to prevail she will be judged. She must remove her order she put in place,” said Henry
President and CEO Dean Banks met with Tyson Waterloo plant employees and community leaders in Waterloo today. Banks has also requested the help of former US Attorney General Eric Holder to enhance the Tyson workplace.