BREAKING NEWS : Full Story

Officials moved slowly on workplace complaint as Tyson's Perry plant Covid-19 outbreak grew

The rising costs of brisket and other meat cuts have forced barbecue restaurants to make changes to their menus.

Posted: May 27, 2020 10:41 AM
Updated: May 27, 2020 10:41 AM

Officials in Iowa's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) waited over a week before contacting Tyson Fresh Meats in Perry, Iowa and declined to inspect the facility after receiving a workplace complaint, according to documents obtained by CNN through an open records request.

A review of the complaint filed in April alleges workers inside a Tyson pork processing plant in Perry were "elbow to elbow" and at risk of exposure to Covid-19. The complaint, first reported by the Associated Press, was filed on April 11. Iowa OSHA did not reach out to Tyson Fresh Meats about the complaint until April 20, the same day Tyson paused operations for a deep cleaning of the facility, , according to documents reviewed by CNN.

Tyson would reopen the plant on April 22, only to suspend operations again on April 24, for testing purposes. The Perry Tyson plant resumed operations on May 4, a day before the state health department announced more than 700 employees had tested positive for Covid-19.

At the time the complaint was filed, the number of Covid-19 positive employees was unknown because neither Dallas County Public Health officials nor Tyson Foods had made that information available. However, there were reports in local news outlets of employees testing positive, and local officials and activists had spent days attempting to pressure Tyson to close the plant for cleaning and testing before it did.

The complaint also alleges social distancing guidelines were not being followed on the production floor or in the cafeteria. The reason listed on the complaint for deciding against an inspection of the facility is "Covid-19."

Responses to the complaint

According to documents, state OSHA officials sent a letter by email to the source to acknowledge receipt of the complaint on April 13. On April 20, officials attempted to contact Tyson by phone and email to discuss the complaint. In a letter to Tyson, Iowa OSHA also says they "are not conducting an inspection at this time." The letter goes on to say, "Since allegations of violations have been made, you should investigate the alleged condition(s) and make any necessary corrections or modifications."

The letter also says: "If we do not receive a response from you within 5 working days indicating that appropriate action has been taken or that no hazards exist and why, an inspection may be conducted."

In emails obtained by CNN between a manager for the Tyson Perry plant and Iowa OSHA, Tyson provided a timeline for actions taken inside the plant to implement CDC and OSHA guidelines at the Perry facility-including beginning to install partitions on the production floor on April 13 and mandating face masks on April 15.

Not mentioned in Tyson's response are plans to suspend operations on April 20 or to mass test employees on April 25. The complaint was closed on April 28-four days after the plant announced it would suspend operations a second time to test workers.

Lawmakers ask for answers

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said at a press conference last Tuesday that state OSHA regulators acted appropriately. "It appears that they followed normal and their appropriate process," Gov. Reynolds said.

The Tyson plant in Perry paused operations to "test team members and conduct a deep clean of the entire facility", according to Tyson. When the plant resumed operations on May 4, a spokesperson told CNN via email that all team members returning to work at the Perry facility had been tested and protective equipment had been installed during the closure.

The next day, Iowa's Director of Public Health identified the Perry plant as one of five workplace locations in the state that experienced a Covid-19 outbreak, meaning more than 10% of the employee population had tested positive for coronavirus. At that time, the Tyson plant in Perry had 730 positive cases, 58% of the plant's employees.

Now, lawmakers are asking for answers. Congresswoman Cindy Axne is calling for an investigation into the Iowa OSHA's handling of the complaint.

"Iowans are going to depend on Iowa OSHA...therefore, the public must know why a direct complaint of unsafe conditions failed to produce any confirmation of an outbreak," Rep. Axne said in a statement.

The letter asks for public disclosure on the timeline OSHA operated under and the reason an on-site inspection as not performed.

In April, the Iowa Department of Public Health reached out to the Centers for Disease Control to help deal with more meat processing plants in the state reporting Covid-19 positive employees and managing the outbreaks.

According to documents obtained by government watchdog group Accountable.US and provided to CNN, the Iowa Department of Health's medical director, Dr. Caitlin Pedati, emailed the CDC on April 15 asking for on-site assistance. The same day, the two agencies hold a conference call to discuss assistance for Covid-19 outbreaks at meat processing facilities. IDPH declines to make a formal request, asking for more time to gather "information from our partners."

On April 20, the CDC emails Dr. Pedati outlining how the agency can help on the ground offering help with contact tracing, foreign language skills, and coordinating employee screenings. No further emails between the two were provided.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 48524

Reported Deaths: 2698
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion11682684
Lake5180242
Elkhart330146
Allen2798132
St. Joseph196466
Cass16389
Hamilton1563101
Hendricks1410100
Johnson1288118
Porter73237
Tippecanoe7268
Madison65964
Clark65544
Bartholomew58644
LaPorte58026
Howard57757
Kosciusko5494
Vanderburgh5486
Marshall4904
Noble48228
Jackson4723
LaGrange4709
Hancock45035
Boone44543
Delaware44550
Shelby42625
Floyd38144
Morgan32931
Monroe30028
Grant29526
Montgomery29420
Clinton2892
Henry27415
Dubois2736
White26510
Decatur25032
Lawrence24625
Dearborn23823
Vigo2358
Harrison21822
Warrick21829
Unassigned193193
Greene18932
Miami1832
Jennings17611
Putnam1698
DeKalb1624
Scott1627
Daviess14317
Wayne1406
Orange13623
Perry1299
Steuben1292
Franklin1248
Jasper1212
Ripley1177
Wabash1122
Carroll1102
Fayette997
Newton9810
Starke933
Whitley925
Gibson812
Huntington812
Randolph794
Wells731
Fulton721
Jefferson722
Jay680
Washington671
Pulaski661
Knox640
Clay604
Rush583
Adams501
Owen491
Benton480
Sullivan451
Posey420
Brown391
Spencer381
Blackford372
Crawford320
Fountain322
Tipton321
Switzerland270
Parke230
Martin220
Ohio170
Vermillion140
Warren141
Union130
Pike110

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 57956

Reported Deaths: 2927
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin10410429
Cuyahoga7883373
Hamilton6019198
Lucas2752302
Marion273438
Pickaway219741
Summit2143206
Montgomery203427
Mahoning1832232
Butler159944
Columbiana130760
Stark1123112
Lorain103567
Trumbull96770
Warren86021
Clark7669
Delaware58215
Fairfield57216
Tuscarawas56710
Belmont54922
Medina52332
Lake50018
Licking49312
Miami46631
Portage44258
Ashtabula43544
Wood42851
Clermont4146
Geauga40742
Wayne36351
Richland3455
Allen32141
Mercer2829
Greene2589
Darke25125
Erie24422
Holmes2363
Huron2202
Madison1978
Ottawa14923
Sandusky13614
Crawford1355
Washington13520
Putnam12815
Ross1273
Hardin12312
Morrow1161
Coshocton1112
Auglaize1074
Monroe8917
Jefferson882
Union861
Muskingum831
Hancock791
Hocking788
Guernsey743
Preble731
Lawrence710
Williams712
Clinton680
Shelby684
Logan621
Fulton610
Ashland591
Athens591
Carroll593
Wyandot596
Brown571
Defiance513
Knox511
Fayette460
Highland451
Scioto410
Champaign401
Perry351
Van Wert350
Seneca342
Henry300
Paulding250
Adams241
Jackson230
Pike230
Vinton222
Gallia181
Harrison121
Meigs120
Morgan110
Noble110
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Clear
88° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 91°
Angola
Clear
90° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 90°
Huntington
Broken Clouds
83° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 86°
Decatur
Clear
77° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 79°
Van Wert
Clear
77° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 79°
Hot Wednesday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events