Fired Manager Calls COVID Betting Pool a 'Morale Boost'

The virus killed at least six workers at a Tyson pork plant
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 30, 2020 4:26 PM CST
COVID Betting Pool Was 'Simply Something Fun'
FILE - In this May 2020, file photo, Tyson's Fresh Meat workers file in for a tour of safety measures put into place after the plant in Waterloo, Iowa, had to shut down due to a COVID-19 outbreak. The family of a Tyson Foods employee are alleging in a lawsuit that he died from COVID-19 after the meat...   (Brandon Pollock/The Courier via AP, File)

One of the Tyson Foods managers fired for betting on how many workers would contract COVID-19 at a Waterloo, Iowa, pork plant said the office pool was spontaneous fun and intended to boost morale. Don Merschbrock said he was speaking in an attempt to show that the seven fired supervisors fired are “not the evil people” that Tyson has portrayed. “We really want to clear our names,” he told the AP. “We actually worked very hard and took care of our team members well.” Tyson announced the terminations of the managers Dec. 16, weeks after the betting allegation surfaced in wrongful death lawsuits filed by the families of four workers who died of COVID-19. Merschbrock said he is more willing to speak than the other fired managers since he isn't a named defendant in the lawsuits.

He said managers conducted the office pool last spring within minutes following mass testing of the plant's roughly 2,800 workers. More than 1,000 workers tested positive for the virus, which hospitalized several and killed at least six. Merschbrock said managers were given the “impossible task” of maintaining production while implementing virus safety precautions. The office pool involved roughly $50 cash, which went to the winner who picked the correct percentage of workers testing positive, Merschbrock said. "It was a group of exhausted supervisors that had worked so hard and so smart to solve many unsolvable problems," Merschbrock said. "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."

(More COVID-19 stories.)

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