Thirty-four Tyson Foods employees, former employees and family members have filed a lawsuit against the company saying it failed to take appropriate precautions at its meat-packing plants during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the lawsuit, filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court in Tyson’s home state of Arkansas, the plaintiffs said Tyson’s negligence and disregard for its workers led to emotional distress, illness and death. Several of the plaintiffs are the spouses or children of Tyson workers who died after contracting COVID.
A message seeking comment was left for Springdale, Arkansas-based Tyson.
Meat-packing facilities were early epicenters of the COVID epidemic in the U.S., with employees working closely together on the production line. At least 59,000 meat-packing workers contracted COVID-19 and 269 workers died in 2020, according to a U.S. House report issued in 2021.
The lawsuit claims Tyson knew about COVID as early as January 2020, when the virus was spreading through its facilities in China. On March 13 of that year, the lawsuit said, Tyson suspended all business travel and mandated that all non-critical employees at its corporate office work remotely.
But at the five Arkansas plants where the plaintiffs or their family members worked, Tyson didn’t provide masks or allow work modifications to allow for social distancing until late April 2020, the lawsuit said. The company also didn’t perform contact tracing or quarantine infected workers, the lawsuit said.
The plaintiffs are seeking monetary damages.
The lawsuit isn’t the first to target Tyson over its COVID protocols.
In late February, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition by Tyson to move a case in Iowa to federal court. Tyson argued that federal officials wanted it to keep the company’s plants running, citing an executive order signed by former President Donald Trump designating meat processing as essential infrastructure.
But a federal appeals court judge ruled last year that Tyson can’t claim it was operating under the direction of the federal government. The case filed by family members of Tyson employees who died of COVID has been sent back to Iowa state court.