Tyson Foods executive order does not protect plant from being kept open, judge rules

Dive Brief:

  • A federal judge has denied Tyson Foods’ defense that it was not responsible for the death of an employee at the Waterloo, Iowa, plant because he followed the federal government’s instructions to keep the facilities open, according to documents filed in North American District Court. Iowa District. The lawsuit was first filed by the family of Tyson worker Isidro Fernandez in Waterloo, who died on April 26 in a CVID-19 complication.
  • The lawsuit was originally filed in Iowa District Court in August before requesting Tyson’s transfer to federal court. The case is now being returned to Black Hawk County District Court after the federal judge rejected the claim that the federal judge followed the instructions of the agency’s federal officials, the Des Moines Register said.
  • With the rapid spread of the coronavirus to meat plants at the start of the epidemic, President Donald Trump issued an executive order in late April using the Defense Production Act to keep the plant open as a critical infrastructure. Industry advocates of the order said it could help fight legal issues.

Dive Insights:

When Trump issued the order to keep the plant open, many questions were raised around whether the move would endanger more workers or protect companies from legal liability if lawsuits were filed against workers. However, U.S. District Judge Linda Reed ruled that the Fernandez case was not included in federal court because time was not involved.

A lawsuit could be transferred to federal court if the defendant acts under the direction of a federal officer – for example, Trump. But in his ruling, Red noted that Trump’s executive order, which Tyson used in his defense, was not signed two days after Fernandez’s death. However, despite the timing and execution of the executive order, Reid wrote that “no federal officer instructed Tyson to neglect to keep the Waterloo facility open (failed to provide personnel with personal protective equipment, failed to provide adequate social enforcement) distance measures, adequate coronavirus protection.” Measures failed to take effect) or fraudulent misrepresentation to staff at the Waterloo facility. “

The lawsuit has already proved explosive, with Tyson managing supervisors and managers at Waterloo Pork Processing Plant arranging a crazed buy-in, winner-take-all buzzing pool for managers to determine how many workers are in SeaWeed-19. “An independent investigation into Tyson’s allegations ended. And as a result fired seven plant managers last month.Now the court is now shutting down a major defense system for the company.

Last spring, Tyson’s Waterloo facility, its largest pork processing plant, tested positive for an outbreak of more than a thousand Tyson workers and five died, local officials were quoted as saying. Lawmakers in the state of Iowa have also filed an OSH complaint against the agency. Since then, Tyson said it has implemented precautions, including screening of plant symptoms, face masks and social distance monitors, and has partnered with Matrix Medical Network to set up an onsite clinic in Waterloo. In July, Tyson announced a testing and monitoring program at all of its 140 facilities, where it will test coronavirus weekly staff.

Tyson isn’t the first agency to use Trump’s executive order in court and probably won’t end it. Back in May, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit by a labor advocacy group alleging that Smithfield Foods had failed to protect itself from the virus at its Missouri plant. The judge ruled that since the president had issued the order, it was up to the executive branch, not the court, to oversee it. Then in November, Stampede Mutt filed a lawsuit in New Mexico using an executive order to fight a local public health order that caused the company to shut down its processing plant for two weeks due to the outbreak.

Companies including Tyson, JBS and Smithfield have other similar unjust deaths and pending labor conditions. The federal judge’s ruling against Tyson shows that companies using executive orders in their defense need to prove the logistics and timelines for how they influenced their decision-making.

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