One of the country's largest meat producers has suspended managers at an Iowa pork plant and has launched an investigation after allegations that they placed bets on how many workers would get sick from the coronavirus disease.
"If these claims are confirmed, we'll take all measures necessary to root out and remove this disturbing behavior from our company," Tyson Foods CEO Dean Banks said in a statement, according to news reports.
The company, which has seen hundreds of workers' compensation claims filed by virus-stricken workers, suspended the managers without pay on Thursday. Tyson also hired the Covington & Burling law firm to investigate and said the probe will be led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
The allegations came to light in lawsuits filed by families of Tyson workers who died after being infected. The suits and a labor union charge that the plant failed to protect workers and provide safeguards against the disease.
Tyson has asked a federal court to dismiss the suits, arguing that workers' compensation is the exclusive remedy for the claims.
But company officials and some state officials reacted swiftly to the news of the betting allegations. CEO Banks met with workers Thursday and they were released early, news outlets reported.
The lawsuits allege that the plant manager in Waterloo, Iowa, organized a winner-take-all pool for supervisors to bet on how many workers would test positive for COVID-19. So far this year, more than 1,000 of the plant's 2,800 employees have been infected and six died, news outlets have said.
"This shocking report of supervisors allegedly taking bets on how many workers would get infected, pressuring sick workers to stay on the job and failing to enforce basic safety standards should outrage every American," said Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.
"They were knowingly allowing this virus to spread rampantly in the plant and the community. The more we hear, the more we find out how insidious and intentional it was," said Iowa state Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo.
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