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How not to defend boorish behavior

One of 6 former managers at a Tyson’s Iowa pork processing plant who were fired for betting on how many of the workers would get COVID-19 tried to defend their actions as “simply something fun, kind of a morale boost” for “a group of supervisors” exhausted from trying to keep workers safe while keeping up production. He spoke to the media in an effort “to clear our names.”

More than a thousand of the plant’s 2,800 workers eventually tested positive, and half a dozen died from the virus. Several of their families have filed wrongful death lawsuits alleging Tyson failed to protect the workers, concealed the virus’ spread through the plant, and even pushed sick workers to show up for work to keep the production lines humming.

The existence of the betting pool became public from those court filings. The company, after investigating, fired all 6 managers involved. The one now talking to the press blamed the company for giving him and the others an “impossible task” of keeping the plant operating, but doesn’t claim Tyson told them run a betting pool on workers getting sick, which is what they were fired for.

The betting pool, per se, didn’t make anyone sick, and there’s no evidence it contributed to unsafe conditions in the plant. The workers’ families aren’t suing the ex-managers. They were simply betting pocket change on outcomes of the situation that existed. It was stupid, but not culpable. What they really did wrong was make the company look bad, and as we all know, that’s a firing offense everywhere.

The lawsuits against Tyson, by contrast, contend the company was culpable, not stupid; a lawyer for the families told the media, “Tyson’s corporate culture prioritized production and sales over the health of its workers.” He didn’t blame the fired managers for that, but added, “Listening to the stories of those who lost a father, brother or wife, I have a hard time having sympathy for the managers.”

If they had to talk about it later (it would be better to just shut up), the smartest thing to say was, “We did something stupid and insensitive, and we’re sorry.” Trying to defend it as innocent fun, even if that’s what it was, simply adds another layer of stupidity on top of stupidty.

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