Tyson, America’s largest food company and one of the largest corporations in the United States by revenue, faces public criticism for its response to the COVID-19 crisis. At least 4,585 Tyson employees in over a dozen states have tested positive for coronavirus, leading to 18 deaths so far. The most recent plant to be tested, the Wilkesboro Tyson poultry plant in North Carolina, has revealed that 1 in 4 of its 2,200 workers tested positive for COVID-19.
Our firm has reported extensively on the meatpacking industry’s COVID-19 response in the last few weeks:
- Almost 900 Tyson Workers Test Positive for Coronavirus
- COVID-19 Sweeps Through Meat Processing Plants & Threatens Workers’ Lives
- Cactus, TX Meatpacking COVID-19 Outbreaks Harm Nearby Communities
- Hundreds More Tyson Foods Workers Test Positive for COVID-19
- 410 COVID-19 Infections Discovered at Amarillo Tyson Plant
- COVID-19 Cases Spike Around Amarillo Meat Plants Once Again
Why Tyson Foods Has So Many Coronavirus Cases in Its Plants
Why have meatpacking plants, Tyson Foods in particular, been so susceptible to COVID-19 outbreaks? Critics say that working conditions are to blame. Meatpacking plants require workers to stand for hours in close proximity, and given that plants often have hundreds or thousands of employees, the disease spreads quickly.
Part of the problem, critics say, is Tyson’s combination of strict attendance policies and denial of paid sick leave. Workers have been encouraged to continue coming to work as normal, and Tyson has even offered bonuses to workers in order to keep plants open. While Tyson has publicly said they encourage any sick workers to stay home, Tyson only offers sick workers 60% of their pay through short-term disability. On April 29, the company raised coverage to 90% of normal pay, but that will only last until the end of June.
Workers have complained that Tyson has done nothing to keep them or their families safe. Tyson eventually changed its practices; now they check temperatures, require face masks, have daily deep cleans, and have protective dividers between workers. Still, it might be too little, too late.
Meatpacking industry officials have responded by blaming workers for the outbreaks, saying that because plant workers live in the same communities or apartment buildings, it’s their living conditions that have made them susceptible to COVID-19. One Smithfield representative implied that the culture of meatpacking plant workers, who are largely immigrants, are the cause of these COVID-19 outbreaks in the industry. This official’s position was quickly disavowed by Smithfield.
Asymptomatic Cases Spread Coronavirus Further
One of the unique difficulties with COVID-19 is the number of asymptomatic cases. Many people are sick who don’t know that they have the virus. As a result, they spread the virus all over their community—at grocery stores, at work, at home, and anywhere else they go. At the Wilkesboro Tyson plant, the majority of positive cases were asymptomatic. Without testing, many of those workers would never have known they were sick.
At another Tyson plant in Waterloo, Iowa, more than 1,000 employees tested positive—and unlike many of Tyson’s other plants, the Waterloo plant closed for a brief period. Many others have remained open by presidential order to prevent a meat shortage, but experts say a meat shortage will be inevitable.
As a company, Tyson is responsible for the safety of its employees. Its delayed response to the coronavirus, its unwillingness to close plants earlier, and its unwillingness to implement policies that would allow sick workers to stay home has had a devastating and tragic effect on communities nationwide. People have lost their lives as a result of Tyson’s inaction. Tyson needs to be held accountable. Our Tyson Foods coronavirus attorneys are investigating the company now to ensure this doesn’t happen ever again, and to make sure sick workers get what they need to recover and move forward.
If you or someone you love has fallen ill from coronavirus while working at Tyson or any other meatpacking company, speak with us today to learn your options. Call (888) 493-1629 now.