Tyson reverts to its pre-pandemic absentee policy. More than 7,100 workers have tested positive for COVID-19, including hundreds in recent weeks

ktaylor@businessinsider.com (Kate Taylor)
·4 min read
tyson foods
A Tyson Foods employee puts on a second protective mask outside of the company's meat processing plant in Waterloo, Iowa, on April 22, 2020.

Jeffrey Becker/USA TODAY NETWORK via REUTERS

  • Tyson returned to its pre-coronavirus pandemic absentee policy last week, after relaxing its policy to avoid punishing workers who stay home due to illness.

  • There have been at least 7,185 cases of COVID-19 tied to Tyson during the coronavirus pandemic, including hundreds of cases in recent weeks. At least 24 workers have died.

  • A representative for Tyson told Business Insider that workers who have "symptoms of the virus or have tested positive will continue to be asked to stay home and will not be penalized."

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

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Hundreds more Tyson workers have tested positive for COVID-19 in recent weeks, as the meat giant returns to its pre-pandemic absentee policy.

Last week, Bloomberg reported that Tyson reinstated its standards attendance policy, which includes punishing workers who stay home due to illness. A representative for Tyson emphasized to Business Insider that workers who have "symptoms of the virus or have tested positive will continue to be asked to stay home and will not be penalized."

There have been at least 7,185 cases of COVID-19 tied to Tyson during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. At least two dozen Tyson workers have died, according to Business Insider's analysis of local news reports.

These deaths include Juan Manuel Juarez Alonzo, a 63-year-old who planned retire later this year from his job at the Dakota City plant where 1,669 workers were infected. Guadalupe Olivera, a 60-year-old father of seven, was one of three workers from a Wallula, Washington plant to die of COVID-19. Jeronimo Anguiano was reportedly one of two workers at a Tyson plant in Goodlettsville, Tennessee to die of COVID-19, with a coworker telling the Nashville Post he remembered Anguiano telling colleagues "God bless you" every morning.

The family of Pwar Gay, a meat cutter at a Amarillo, Texas plant, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Tyson in May. Gay died after being hospitalized for several weeks, due to a workplace fall and COVID-19 symptoms.

A representative for Tyson said in a statement to Business Insider that the company's "top priority is the health and safety of our team members, their families and our communities."

"Since the creation of our internal coronavirus task force in mid-January, we have implemented many measures to protect the health and safety of our team members," the statement continued. "This included collaborating with government and public health officials to put in place a host of protective steps that meet or exceed CDC and OSHA guidance for preventing COVID-19 to protect our team members."

Tyson has reported hundreds of positive COVID-19 tests over the last week

Tyson Foods coronavirus
Workstation divider at Tyson Foods' Chick N Quick plant in Rogers, Ark. April 24, 2020

Tyson Foods

Tyson has revealed that hundreds more workers have recently tested positive for COVID-19, with numerous announcements of new cases since the company returned to its pre-pandemic absentee policy last week.

The company told Bloomberg that it had reinstated its policy last Tuesday. Also on Tuesday, Tyson announced that 815 workers at two Iowa plants had tested positive for COVID-19. At the time, Tyson said many had already been through their required absence and returned to work; the majority who tested positive did not show any symptoms.

On Thursday, Tyson announced that 17 workers had tested positive at a Center, Texas poultry plant. These cases were in addition to 94 cases identified since March, with a total of 111 of the 1,212 people at the plant testing positive.

On Friday, Tyson said that eight workers at a Chicago, Illinois steak-cutting facility tested positive for COVID-19, on top of the 23 positive cases since April. As in other plants, the majority of infected employees were asymptomatic.

"Team members who test positive receive paid leave during the required quarantine period and may return to work only when they have met the criteria established by both the CDC and Tyson," Tyson said in a statement.

Tyson and other meat industry giants have made significant changes during the coronavirus pandemic, as thousands of workers have been infected with COVID-19. According to the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. there have been at least 20,400 cases of COVID-19 and 74 worker deaths linked to meatpacking facilities across the US.

Tyson has rolled out new policies including taking workers' temperatures, requiring face masks, instituting additional daily deep cleanings, and installing workstation dividers.

A Tyson representative previously confirmed to Business Insider that the company does not offer full paid sick leave; instead, it offers short-term disability. In late April, Tyson raised short-term disability coverage to 90% of normal pay until the end of June. Prior to this change, sick employees seeking time off of work only received 60% of pay.

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