Trust Funds

Tyson Foods

UW System Trust Funds
Investments and Social Responsibility:
Tyson Foods Corporate Record
December 2004

Company Background

“Tyson Foods Inc. is the largest poultry processing company in the U.S. with 50,000 employees at 59 plants in 15 states. It dominates the market with 27 percent of sales nationwide.  Tyson is also the world’s largest supplier of premium beef and pork, as well as a diversified producer of hundreds of consumer-ready food products. The beef and pork operations depend upon independent livestock producers to supply their plants. The company buys millions of cattle and hogs each year to supply ten beef plants and six pork plants.”1  For the first nine months of 2004, Tyson earnings were $337 million, or 94 cents per share, on sales of $19.3 billion.Tyson is a Fortune 500 company, ranked 177th, has a total market capitalization of $5.8 billion and represents 0.71% of the S&P 400 Mid-Cap Index.

Tyson Foods has numerous collective bargaining agreements with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union; the Retail, Wholesale, Department Store Union; the International Union of Electrical Workers; the Confederacion de Trabajadores de Mexico; the Sindicato Industrial de Trabajadores de Nuevo Leon; the Confederacion Reginal Obrera de Mexico; and the Confederacion Reginal de Obreros y Campesinos covering 32,408 employees (or roughly 27% of the total global workforce of some 120,000). Of the total unionized employees, 28,556 are employed in the United States.1

Corporate Legal Record

Tyson Foods is currently facing a national wage and hour Class Action Suit lawsuit brought by a group of Alabama workers for failure to pay overtime wages.6 The suit charges the poultry giant with violating federal overtime provisions. The suit charges that Tyson fails to pay workers for all the time spent working on the line and time spent putting on and taking off required safety equipment such as gloves, hairnets, aprons, etc. The company could face fines of nearly $600 million in back pay to its employees.1

In June 2003, Tyson Foods pleaded guilty to 20 federal violations of the Clean Water Act.  Tyson agreed to pay $5.5 million in fines to the federal government, $1 million to the Missouri Natural Resources Fund, and $1 million to the state of Missouri.4 The company also will be on probation for three years, and also must hire an independent consultant to perform an environmental audit and implement an improved environmental management program. The fines are the result of Tyson’s confession that between September 1998 and March 2001 they continually drained untreated wastewater from a poultry plant into a tributary that empties into the Lamine River. Under the federal Clean Water Act, a meat packing company is required to treat their wastewater before draining it into any water source.5

In December 2001, the U.S. Justice Department filed a 36-count indictment against Tyson Foods and six of its employees, executives and managers charging them with conspiracy to smuggle illegal aliens from Mexico and Central America to work in 15 of its U.S. poultry processing plants, including the Albertville, Alabama plant.  The Justice Department also alleged that Tyson and their co-conspirators assisted the workers in obtaining fraudulent identification and employment documents. Three employees pleaded guilty and were fired.  In March 2003, a federal grand jury acquitted Tyson Foods and three of its managers of the charges.1

In August 2000, Tyson Foods agreed to allow workers to decline work on Sundays for religious reasons, even if they don't attend or belong to an organized church. A settlement of a religious-discrimination suit was announced by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The case originated with a worker at the Vienna, Georgia plant who said he was fired for refusing to work on Sundays.”1

In February 2000, the company agreed to pay $230,000 to settle allegations of discriminatory hiring practices against women and minorities at its Forest, Miss issippi poultry plant.  The administrative complaint stemmed from a compliance review of the plant conducted by the Labor Department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.  The agency's investigation found that, from January 1, 1996 through June 30, 1997, Tyson discriminated against qualified women who applied for entry-level laborer jobs and qualified African Americans who applied for craft positions.5

“In February 2000, Tyson’s Henderson, Kentucky complex was slapped by Kentucky OSHA with a record-breaking $269,000 in fines from citations for 73 serious health and safety violations.”1

In July 1999, Tyson Foods agreed to pay $2.3 million to settle sexual harassment claims at some of its Alabama plants. The payout was part of a record $10.79 million paid in fiscal 1999 by Alabama companies investigated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.1

“In December 1997, Tyson Foods pleaded guilty to giving former USDA Secretary Mike Espy over $12,000 in illegal gratuities and agreed to pay $6 million in criminal fines and investigative expenses.  Two Tyson executives were also eventually convicted and sentenced to prison terms, but were later pardoned by President Bill Clinton.  Secretary Espy resigned and was later acquitted.”1

Other News

In February 2003, union workers who produce meat products at the Tyson Foods plant in Jefferson, Wisconsin went on strike after the company gave its “final offer” that would cut wages and benefits for workers' families.1 “When the strike started, Tyson had sought a four-year wage freeze, a reduced wage scale for new workers, elimination of the profit-sharing plan, cuts in vacation, sick leave and pension and a bigger bill for less comprehensive health care coverage. Tyson has said it wants to bring the Jefferson workers' benefits in line with those of its other employees and the wages in line with what comparable workers earn in the region.”7 Winning only tiny gains apparently after an 11-month strike, on January 29th, 2004, the union voted 293 to 70 for a new four-year contract. The Wisconsin State Journal noted on January 31st that “[o]nce the strike reached one year, the replacement workers Tyson [had] hired could vote to decertify the union and basically end the strike. So this past week, the union switched to survival mode, telling workers to give in and end the walkout.”

In January 1999, Tyson's demands to eliminate paid breaks for workers, reduce overtime pay rates, and gut contract protections induced a worker strike against the company.  The strike shut down operations at its Corydon, Indiana plant for over 2 months while workers picketed and won living wages and decent working conditions for their plant.1

Various corporate watchdog organizations have cited Tyson as a poor corporate citizen.  In 1999, Multinational Monitor, an organization which tracks corporate activity, named Tyson one of the “Ten Worst Corporations of 1999” citing seven worker deaths at its facilities in just seven months (the poultry giant had recently been targeted by employees of its packing houses for ongoing violations of worker health and safety). Tyson also made the Corporate Crime Reporter’s list of the nation's ten worst corporations in 1999 and in 2002 Tyson Foods earned a place as one of Sierra Club's “Ten Least Wanted”.1

UW Trust Funds Actions and Current Holdings

At its meeting of December 4, 2003, the Business and Finance Committee passed a motion to divest of its Tyson holdings (bonds valued at some $200,000) and screen Tyson securities from future investments until the labor dispute at the Jefferson, Wisconsin plant was settled.  This action was taken as one of solidarity with the student pressure that had resulted earlier in boycotts of Tyson products at the Madison and Milwaukee campuses until the resolution of the dispute. Following the end of the strike, the UW Trust Funds informed its investment managers on February 18, 2004 that the Tyson screen was being lifted.

The UW Trust Funds currently has one Tyson Foods holding (purchased subsequent to the lifting of the screen), as defined below.

As of Date




 Market Value

Coupon Rate




$ 134,454

$ 132,896



  1. United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, AFL-CIO/CLC website:
  2. Tyson Foods Website,
  3. Associated Press, Mon, Jul. 26, 2004
  4. Stafford, Margaret. “Tyson pleads guilty to wastewater dumping at Missouri plant.”  The Associated Press, June 27, 2003.
  5. The Sierra Club website:
  6. Interfaith Worker Justice website:
  7. Wisconsin Ag Connection, January 30, 2004