Tyson Foods

Dozens of cases of COVID-19 are associated with the Tyson Foods plant in Center.

The family of a Tyson worker from Center who died in April of the coronavirus is suing the meat processing company, saying it failed to provide a safe work environment.

Maria Yolanda Chavez filed the amended suit in federal court last week seeking unspecified damages and funeral costs for her late husband, Jose Angel Chavez.

Mr. Chavez became ill with the coronavirus in early April and died April 17, according to the lawsuit filed on his family’s behalf by Houston-based attorney Patrick O’Hara. He had worked at the plant for more than 20 years, according to the suit.

“Tyson Foods, Inc. failed to provide a safe work environment for Jose Angel Chavez after the COVID-19 pandemic began,” a portion of the suit says.

A civil complaint tells only one side of the of a lawsuit. Tyson’s attorneys have been served a copy of the suit and have until July 30 to formally respond.

An employee at the plant told The Daily Sentinel in late April that company officials failed to take safety precautions as the coronavirus was spreading. That employee said plant workers were previously told that they would not be receiving masks “because the virus might get trapped inside the masks, which would continually expose us to the virus.”

The lawsuit lists six agents of negligence, all of which which were previously described by that employee of the plant. That employee spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media and feared losing their job for doing so.

Meat packing plants around the nation have been hotspots for the spread of the coronavirus, prompting some companies to shut down production for brief periods of time. The Center plant was closed briefly while new equipment was installed, which was unrelated to the virus.

Tyson officials previously said they were taking measures to prevent the spread of the virus at its facilities, including distancing workers on the production floor.

The Chavez family appears to be the first to file suit against any Tyson facility in East Texas over the virus. Tyson also has a facility in Nacogdoches.

Texas processing plants haven’t been the only ones to come under scrutiny. Iowa regulators on Wednesday said they did not uncover violations at Tyson’s largest pork processing plant, where several employees died after contracting the virus. More than 1,000 of the plant’s 2,800 workers had tested positive for the virus or antibodies by early May, according to Iowa state officials.

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