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Fired Tyson Foods manager defends betting on workers as 'morale boost'

Fired Tyson Foods manager defends betting on workers as 'morale boost'
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A manager fired from Tyson Foods for placing bets on which workers would contract the coronavirus defended his actions as a “morale boost.”

“We really want to clear our names,” Don Merschbrock, who worked as a night manager at the Waterloo, Iowa, facility told The Associated Press. “We actually worked very hard and took care of our team members well.”

The company announced the firing of Merschbrock and seven others in mid-December after the betting allegations, which appear in wrongful-death lawsuits filed by workers’ family, attracted national attention.

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Merschbrock, who was not named as a defendant in the lawsuits, said plant managers created the office pool in the spring after nearly 3,000 workers were tested for the virus. He portrayed the pool as an attempt to cope with the uphill struggle of keeping the plant open while simultaneously following all safety protocols.

“It was a group of exhausted supervisors that had worked so hard and so smart to solve many unsolvable problems,” he told the 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, who is representing the family of workers who died from the virus, said the betting was symptomatic of a broader corporate culture that dehumanized front-line workers. Orchard’s lawsuits cover the deaths of Sedika Buljic, Reberiano Garcia and Isidro Fernandez, who died of the virus in April, and Jose Ayala Jr., who died in late May after being hospitalized the previous month.

“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," Orchard told the AP. “But I do understand why and how this could have happened."