More than 4,500 Tyson Foods Workers Nationwide Have Been Diagnosed with COVID-19; At Least 18 Have Died
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began earlier this year, more than 4,500 workers at Tyson meat processing plants in 15 states have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. Among those with the infection, at least 18 people have died. Tyson workers, as well as some government safety investigators and state and local officials, are pointing to a lack of appropriate safeguards at Tyson plants for the high numbers of people infected with the virus.
When the pandemic first began, the company was slow to react to the virus spreading, according to employees and media reports. Many workers on processing lines at Tyson facilities work elbow to elbow, yet the company didn’t begin providing workers with masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) for weeks after its spread.
Employees at Tyson plants throughout the country also say they were pressured to continue coming to work in spite of COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders in effect in many cities and states. It’s also alleged that workers were not always told about co-workers who had been infected. Some in the meat industry have countered these claims and have put the blame for the outbreak on the living situations of the company’s workers, many of whom are immigrants.
Workers at Texas Tyson plants haven’t been spared from getting the infection. At least three facilities in the state have been affected by the virus in significant numbers. Employees at two of these plants have died from COVID-19.
Hundreds of workers at Tyson plants in Sherman, Amarillo, and Carthage have been diagnosed with COVID-19. In Sherman, some reports say at least 300 have been infected. Amarillo and Carthage have hundreds more cases between them. Three Tyson employees from these plants have died. Communities where workers live have also seen the virus spread, causing illness and deaths.
A forklift operator who worked at the Sherman facility died from the virus in May. It was the first coronavirus-related death in Grayson County. Two employees from the Tyson Amarillo plant also died in May.
Pwar Gay, a meat cutter at the Amarillo facility, died of the virus on May 8. Camha Thi Vu, who also worked as a meat cutter there, died on May 11. The families of both of these Tyson employees have filed wrongful death lawsuits against the company.
The lawsuit brought by Vu’s family says that workers at the plant were required to continue coming to work during the pandemic, even though the city of Amarillo had issued a stay-at-home order that went into effect on April 1. Texas Governor Greg Abbott had also issued a stay-at-home order for the state effective April 2. The wrongful death claim additionally alleges that workers were not provided with any personal protective equipment (PPE). Vu fell ill in late April with difficulty breathing after working long hours at Tyson.
The Gay wrongful death claim says that employees at the plant were told to keep coming to work, even though the company knew it had a problem with the virus spreading there. It also mentions the lack of PPE for workers. Gay had also suffered a workplace fall and was required to keep coming to work in spite of pain from a knee injury, according to the suit. She died after spending several weeks in the hospital for both her fall injuries and the COVID-19 infection.
Wrongful death lawsuits are legal claims that ask for damages when a person dies due to negligence. They are brought by family members or personal representatives of the estates of the deceased. Damages include such things as:
In cases of gross negligence, exemplary, or punitive, damages might also be awarded. These damages are intended to punish especially negligent wrongdoers and discourage them from future acts of negligence. The Tyson wrongful death lawsuits of Gay and Vu both ask for exemplary damages, as well as other damages.
Since the outbreak reached its peak, Tyson has closed down some of its plants, including in Texas, to put various COVID-19 safety precautions in place. These safety measures include taking temperatures, requiring workers to wear face masks, putting dividers between workstations, and adding more daily deep cleanings of the plants. But is it too little too late? Time will tell what further impacts the coronavirus will have on Tyson workers and their communities. And how many more lawsuits might be brought against the company over its response to the COVID-19 virus.
According to regulations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employers must provide employees with safe workplaces. Employers are supposed to provide workers with necessary protective equipment. They are also supposed to report illnesses and injuries that occur. As seen by the illnesses and deaths caused by the unmanaged spread of coronavirus at Tyson meatpacking plants, it may not be surprising to see more legal claims against the company.