Tyson manager fired for betting on employee Covid tests defends actions as ‘morale boost’

‘It was a group of exhausted supervisors that had worked so hard and so smart,’ former manager says

Louise Hall
Wednesday 30 December 2020 15:24
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One of seven Tyson food manager’s fired for betting on the number of employees in the company’s largest plant that would test positive for coronavirus has defended the actions as a “morale boost”.

Don Merschbrock, a former plant manager in Waterloo, Iowa, spoke to the Associated Press with the aim of “clearing their names” and demonstrating the managers are “not the evil people” the company portrayed.

The handful of top managers at the pork plant were fired earlier this month after an independent investigation confirmed allegations they bet on how many workers would have contracted the disease.

The allegations emerged in wrongful-death lawsuits filed by the family members of workers’ who died during an outbreak at the plant, which is said to have infected more than 1,000 people. At least six people died.

Mr Merschbrock, who is not named as a defendant in the lawsuits, told the outlet that managers conducted the office pool last spring in the minutes following mass testing of the plant's roughly 2,800 workers.

The office pool involved roughly $50 cash, which was then awarded to the winner who picked the correct percentage of workers testing positive for the virus, Mr Merschbrock said.

“It was a group of exhausted supervisors that had worked so hard and so smart to solve many unsolvable problems,” he told AP.

"It was simply something fun, kind of a morale boost for having put forth an incredible effort. There was never any malicious intent. It was never meant to disparage anyone.”

Mel Orchard, an attorney representing families of deceased employees, refuted the idea that protecting workers from the virus was “an unsolvable problem."

Lawyers for four of the workers who died have portrayed the betting pool functions as a reflection of the company's apathetic attitude toward health and safety.

“Listening to the stories of those who lost a father, brother or wife, I have a hard time having sympathy for the managers who worked extra hours and were tired," he said.  

“But I do understand why and how this could have happened."

Former US Attorney General Eric Holder led the investigation into the allegations of the betting pool after the company received significant public backlash following accusations in the lawsuit.

The company did not release the report’s findings and the managers have complained they were terminated without explanation.

Mr Merschbrock told AP that those involved in the pool did not think it violated company policy and thought the positive test rate would be lowered due to mitigation efforts.

A Tyson spokesman declined to comment on Mr Merschbhrock's assertions when contacted by AP.

Reporting by the Associated Press

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