One Tyson Foods manager who has been fired to bet on how many workers will contract COVID-19 at a pork factory in Iowa said the office pool was spontaneous and aimed at boosting morale
Iowa City, Iowa – A manager at Tyson Foods, who was fired for betting on the number of workers to contract COVID-19 at the Iowa pork factory, said the pool in the office was fun automatically and aimed at boosting morale.
Don Mershbrook, the former night manager at the plant in Waterloo, Iowa, said he was speaking in an effort to show that the seven fired supervisors were „not the bad guys” Tyson portrayed.
„We really want our names cleared,” he told the Associated Press. „We worked really hard and took good care of our team members.”
Tyson announced the termination of Waterloo managers’ duties on December 16, weeks after betting allegations surfaced in wrongful death lawsuits filed by families of four workers who died of COVID-19.
Tyson said an investigation led by former US Attorney Eric Holder found enough evidence to terminate those involved, saying their actions violated the company’s values of respect and integrity. The company asked Holder’s law firm to investigate the allegation after a public backlash threatened to damage its trademark and demoralize its employees.
The Arkansas-based Springdale Corporation, one of the world’s largest meat producers, did not announce Holder’s results, and the fired managers complained that they were left without an explanation.
Merschbrock released a statement and made it clear in an interview that he was more willing to speak out than the other fired directors because he is not a defendant in lawsuits.
He said managers conducted the office pool last spring within minutes after conducting mass tests of nearly 2,800 workers at the factory.
County officials said last May that more than 1,000 workers had tested positive for the virus, which has transported many hospitals and killed at least six. They criticized Tyson for not initially providing workers with adequate protective gear and for shutting down the plant until after an outbreak in the city.
Real estate attorneys portrayed four dead workers the betting game as an indication of the company’s harsh stance on health and safety. They claimed that managers downplayed the severity of the virus, and at times allowed or encouraged employees to work while sick.
Tyson said that the plant, the largest with pork and capable of processing 20,000 pigs per day, was designated a critical infrastructure by the federal government in March and that its leaders „have worked to” safely continue operations to secure the national food supply. „
Merschbrock, who has worked with Tyson for a decade, said managers were given the „impossible task” of maintaining production while implementing virus safety precautions. He said they worked 12 hours a day, six or seven days a week.
Merschbrock said the office suite included nearly $ 50 in cash, which went to a winner who picked the correct proportion of workers who tested positive for the virus. He added that those involved do not believe that the complex violates the company’s policy and believe that the plant’s positive rate will be lower than the community rate due to mitigation efforts.
„It was a group of weary supervisors who worked hard and smartly to solve many unsolvable problems,” Merschbrock said. „It was a fun thing, a kind of moral reinforcement to make an incredible effort. There was no malicious intent. It was never intended to take anyone lightly.”
A Tyson spokesman declined to comment on Mershbrook’s assertions.
Mel Orchard, a lawyer who represents families of the deceased employees, said protecting workers from the virus was not an „unsolvable problem.” He said the issue is related to company culture, with executives prioritizing production and sales and treating line workers as consumers.
He said, “When hearing the stories of those who lost a father, brother, or wife, I find it difficult to empathize with managers who worked overtime and were tired. But I understand why and how this happened.”
Orchard represents Sedika Buljic Estates, 58; Reberiano Garcia, 60; Jose Ayala Junior, 44 years old; And Isidro Fernandez. Bulzic, Garcia and Fernandez died in April, and Ayala died on May 25 after six weeks of hospitalization.
This story corrects the spelling of Don Merschbrock’s last name in one reference.
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