Tyson: Trump demanded plants operate during pandemic

Tyson Foods, faced with lawsuits over the death of plant workers during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court, stating that the Trump Administration demanded that its plants remain open.

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Tyson Employees Face Coverings

Faced with lawsuits related to the death of Tyson Foods workers during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the court to consider that it was operating plants under an order from then-President Donald Trump.

In its filing, Tyson Foods said Trump issued an executive order, which for all intents and purposes forced Tyson to keep operating meat and poultry plants during the most dangerous points during the pandemic, in order to keep the food supply chain moving. However, that executive order often ran contrary to the directives from the Iowa state government, the company alleged, and Tyson put its emphasis on the federal directive and Trump’s assurance that the executive order should “solve any liability problems.”

Plaintiffs representing the estates of four Tyson Foods employees who worked during the pandemic and died from COVID-19 complications, sued the company in Iowa state court, but petitioners removed those suits to federal court under the federal officer removal statute, explaining that Tyson Foods had acted under federal direction. However, the Eighth Circuit ordered that those cases be remanded to the state court, asserting that the federal direction and supervision was insufficient to warrant a federal forum, Tyson’s petition stated.

“In the throes of the greatest national health crisis in a century, ensuring that the nation’s food supply remained secure ranked high among the federal government’s priorities. In our system of free enterprise and federalism, the federal government could not accomplish that critical task alone; it depended instead on the cooperation of private companies, including food-processing companies like petitioner Tyson Foods. But, in the early days of the COVID-19 national emergency, Tyson was receiving contrary directions from competing authorities. While the federal government was directing Tyson to continue to produce food to keep grocery stores nationwide stocked, state and local authorities were demanding that Tyson shutter its facilities. Tyson followed the directives of the federal government and has now been sued for its efforts under state law,” the petition stated.

Tyson further stated in the petition that it “should not have to defend actions taken at the behest of the federal government against the contrary requirements of state tort-law in state court.”

The deceased people whose families have filed suits were employees at Tyson Fresh Meats’ pork plant in Waterloo, Iowa. Operations were suspended there due to the risk of the spread of COVID-19 during the week of April 22, 2020, but they resumed on a limited basis on May 7. While the plant was idle, the company performed an additional deep clean and sanitization of the entire facility. Upon their return to the job, workers were able to see the changes made to promote social distancing and protective measures that meet or exceed CDC and OSHA guidance, the company said at the time.

The Waterloo plant was also the site of a controversy during the pandemic, as seven members of the plant’s management team were terminated, following an investigation into allegations that they took bets on how many company workers would contract COVID-19.

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