With the high number of of COVID-19 infections and deaths of essential workers, many businesses now find themselves facing cases of negligence and wrongful death suits from grieving families. Tyson Foods Inc. is currently one of those, as multiple families have come forward to allege that Tyson’s negligence, in handling the safety of their workers during the pandemic, resulted in the death of their loved ones.
One particular case against Tyson is that of the family of Jose Angel Chavez. Chavez, who worked at a Tyson meat factory for 20 years, died from COVID-19 on April 17. The family claims that Chavez’ death resulted from Tyson’s failure to implement safe practices. The lawsuit describes glaring omissions of safety practices, which include not implementing social distancing of six feet between workers, not providing workers with personal protective equipment, encouraging workers to keep working despite feeling sick, and knowingly withholding information about infections in the workplace.
The family of Chavez is seeking over $1 million in compensation, claiming that they are owed exemplary damages since Tyson’s negligence resulted in the wrongful death of Jose Angel Chavez and also created an environment for a massive COVID-19 outbreak. In the suit, the family states that “Tyson Foods failed to protect its employees from the known dangers associated with the coronavirus, as a result of the defendant’s failure to use ordinary care, Jose Angel Chavez was infected with coronavirus at work.”
Advocacy groups have shown massive support for the families who are filing suits against Tyson for the lost of loved ones. Moreover, these advocacy groups are demanding Tyson and other meat processing companies to increase the safeguards for their workers. This activism has ignited increased pressure and criticism towards Tyson as the advocacy groups reported that the numbers of workers infected at Tyson’s meat factories is currently up to 8,500 and the number of workers who have died due to COVID-19 is at 25, which, according to the advocacy group, is “more than double that of any other meatpacker.”
Navina Khanna, the executive director of the HEAL Food Alliance, one of the many advocacy groups, says that the “high rates of COVID-19 infections are just one symptom of the exploitation that Tyson workers have faced for too long.” The HEAL Food Alliance amongst is amongst the 120 advocacy groups that have penned a letter to the 10 major shareholder of Tyson Food Inc. demanding them to do more for its workers. Some of the measures these advocacy groups demand include paid quarantine leave for COVID-19 positive workers, a cutback on line speeds, an increase in testing of their workers, informing workers when they have been exposed to the virus, and providing personal protective equipment.
The letter offers severe criticism stating that “Through its failure to adequately protect its workers, Tyson has sent the message that the lives of its workers—who are mostly people of color and immigrants—do not matter to them.”
Initially, in early May when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first reported on the increased number of infections in meat processing factories, the companies, acting on behalf of the CDC’s concerns, slowed down and even halted production. However, in late April production once again picked up speed as President Trump, in an executive order, invoked the Defense Production Act. Advocacy groups denounced the executive order warning it will only result in more infections and deaths among meat factory workers.
Tyson in response to the lawsuits has said they are saddened and sympathize with the families. Moreover, Tyson asserts that they have now implemented many more safeguards including screening team members before every shift, requiring protective face masks, creating social distance monitors, and increasing the testing of worker for COVID-19.
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