116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
WATERLOO — A lawsuit brought by relatives of two Tyson workers in Waterloo and Independence who died days apart of COVID-19 has been transferred to federal court.
Whether the lawsuit stays there is a question now under appeal in the federal court system.
In this latest case, family members of Jeffrey Orvis and Arthur Scott, both of Waterloo, filed a lawsuit in April in Black Hawk County District Court against Tyson Fresh Meats, Tyson Pet Products and certain plant officials.
The families allege Tyson ignored warnings about the coronavirus pandemic and didn’t take the necessary steps to protect its workers.
On Monday, the suit was transferred to U.S. District Court in Cedar Rapids at the request of Tyson’s attorneys, who argued the lawsuit’s allegations involve actions the company took at the direction of federal officers — former President Donald Trump and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Agriculture.
Orivs, 65, who worked at the Waterloo pork processing plant, died April 19, 2020. Scott, 51, worked at the Independence plant and died April 23, 2020.
Their deaths came as community leaders and health officials were calling on Tyson to close its Waterloo operation amid a COVID-19 outbreak, a call that the company dismissed for more than a week before shuttering the operation April 22, 2020.
In court records, Tyson denied the families’ allegations, saying it invested millions in safety equipment and followed federal workplace guidelines.
“Tyson worked hand-in-hand with federal officials from the time of the declaration of a national emergency on March 13 to safely continue operations to aid the federal government in accomplishing its duty to secure the national food supply,” the company’s attorneys said in court records.
Attorneys for the families argued Tyson processed enough meat during the pandemic to increase exports to China, and they noted the Independence plant — where Scott worked — doesn't make food but dog treats.
The Independence plant remained open after the governor ordered non-essential businesses closed March 26, 2020.
“Perhaps sensing the tenuous nature of its claim that manufacturing dog treats was essential, employees were given a letter to carry with them indicating that their work was essential,” the lawsuit states.
Trial dates haven’t been set, and it isn’t clear if the suit will remain in federal court.
Similar suits against Tyson Foods — filed by the families of deceased workers Sedika Buljic, Reberiano Garcia, Jose Ayala and Isidro Fernandez — also were diverted to federal court on similar grounds at the company’s request.
But a U.S. District Court judge in December disagreed with the “acting on the direction of federal officers” reasons for the transfer and sent the lawsuit back to Black Hawk County District Court.
The company is appealing that ruling to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has put the cases on pause.