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Public Petition Demands Tyson Pay COVID-19 Sick Leave

Virus Outbreak Meat Plants Lawsuit
Charlie Neibergall/AP
In this May 1 file photo, vehicles sit outside the Tyson Foods plant in Waterloo, Iowa. Civil rights attorney Tom Frerichs on Thursday June 25 filed a lawsuit on behalf of the estates of three Tyson Foods workers at its pork processing plant in Waterloo who died after contracting coronavirus. The lawsuit alleges the company knowingly put employees at risk during an outbreak and lied to keep them on the job.

Meatpacking industries have faced criticism about their response to COVID-19. One Iowa organization said Tyson Foods needs to make it easier for employees to receive virus-related paid sick leave.

The Iowa Council for Worker Safety, along with other groups, has launched a public petition demanding Tyson pay all employees who have missed work due to COVID-19. Tyson said it already does this.

DREAM Iowa, an immigrant advocacy organization based in Des Moines, signed on to the petition. DREAM Iowa Vice President Nilvia Reyes Rodriguez said since Tyson hired a third party to determine sick leave cases, employees are either too scared to apply or they are rejected.

“We don’t understand why the process is so much more difficult now. And because it’s so much more difficult, people just aren’t applying, so they’re just going to work instead,” Reyes Rodriguez said.

Tyson spokesperson Liz Croston said Tyson does provide paid leave for employees infected by COVID-19, and all employees must apply for paid leave through a third party. That third party then processes all applications.

According to rules stipulated in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, a company with more than 500 employees is not required to provide paid sick leave. Tyson Foods has more than 100,000 employees.

“While we understand that there’s no legal pressure that we can put on Tyson, that’s the whole purpose of the petition. Is that hopefully there’s enough public pressure that they do the right thing," Reyes Rodriguez said.

She said Tyson’s policies are not transparent, and that whole communities will suffer from that.