WASHINGTON — Tyson Foods Inc. recently filed a petition with the US Supreme Court as the company continues to deal with lawsuits regarding employees who died during the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company is arguing in its filing that operations were under an executive order of former president Donald Trump and the federal government which forced the company to stay open under the Defense Production Act. 

Plaintiffs representing four Tyson employees who died during the start of the pandemic initially sued the company in Iowa state court. However, the case moved between state and federal court until the US Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit sided with the plaintiffs and said there was not enough federal direction and supervision during the early part of the pandemic.

In its filing to the Supreme Court Tyson explained its position.

“In the throes of the greatest national health crisis in a century, ensuring that the nation’s food supply remained secure ranked high among the federal government’s priorities,” the petition said. “In our system of free enterprise and federalism, the federal government could not accomplish that critical task alone; it depended instead on the cooperation of private companies, including food-processing companies like petitioner Tyson but, in the early days of the COVID-19 national emergency, Tyson was receiving contrary directions from competing authorities. While the federal government was directing Tyson to continue to produce food to keep grocery stores nationwide stocked, state and local authorities were demanding that Tyson shutter its facilities. Tyson followed the directives of the federal government and has now been sued for its efforts under state law.”

The lawsuits stem from the Waterloo, Iowa, pork plant run by Tyson Fresh Meats which suspended operations in April 2020 and reopened in May 2020.