Employees staying home as COVID-19 cases at Wayne Farms in Albertville rise

Updated: Apr. 21, 2020 at 8:34 PM CDT
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ALBERTVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - A poultry plant in Albertville is self-reporting a rise in cases among its employees.

Wayne Farms spokesman Frank Singleton said the Albertville poultry plant now has roughly 80 positive cases among its workforce of 850.

He said 250 workers are either quarantined or are taking unpaid time off.

One worker is dead from the virus.

In WAFF’s original report on April 20, there were 75 positive cases. The plant has implemented a series of procedures to curb the spread of the virus.

On April 21, WAFF 48 News spoke to two current employees at Wayne Farms. They expressed concerns about retaliation from the plant.

WAFF agreed to keep their identities private after they were able to prove they worked at the plant.

WAFF 48 News is being intentionally vague about personal details in order to protect their identities.

Employee #1

The first employee said they are a long-time worker at the plant.

They said they recently took time off out of concern over the virus and how working could put loved ones at risk.

They said they plan to take more time off as a result of WAFF 48′s original report.

“I don’t feel safe being up there,” they said.

The worker said the majority of the safety measures taken by the plant have come in the last two weeks, and are still not enough.

“They just thought it was going to blow over, and it’s not going to happen, well it’s happened here and it’s still here,” they said.

“You take 4 to 500 people inside of a plant that’s standing elbow to elbow cutting up chicken, there’s no possible way to keep them apart.”

The worker said they can afford to take time off of work, but others are not as lucky.

Employee #2

The second employee said they are a recent hire by the plant.

They said the morale of the workers after the news of the dead coworker is down.

“It’s pretty sad up there, everybody is scared, I mean, I could see it in their eyes,” they said.

The worker said the plant has made strides to curb the spread, but they question whether the changes came fast enough.

“They did enough that they can do there, there is really nothing else that they can do," they said.

“If I could call the shots? I would shut down."

The worker said they cannot afford to take time off.

“Ain’t nobody can afford that if you got a family,” they said.

In WAFF 48′s original report on April 20, spokesman Frank Singleton sent WAFF the following list of measures taken to curb the spread:

  • Doubling-down on the sanitation program—beyond the regular sanitation process, every area of the plant is getting sanitized and fogged, including breakrooms, hallways and offices
  • Installing infrared temperature sensors to screen all employees/visitors/suppliers before entry
  • Staggering start and break times to help with distancing, and waiving minor tardiness to avoid crowding and close quarters
  • Installing dividers in breakrooms and on the debone line and other areas to provide barriers between employees
  • Providing face coverings/masks free of charge for use throughout plant, in addition to required plastic smocks, hairnets, and gloves
  • Following stringent positive COVID contact protocol—checking all contact points—both work and personal—of employees with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, from work association to rides or carpools and social contacts
  • Asking employees to respect and follow preventative guidance from the CDC—staying home and minimizing social contact, wearing face masks or covers in public, regular handwashing
  • Reporting any positive COVID-19 contacts outside of work-major or minor—rides, social contacts, house guests—any potential transmission point
  • Reporting any flu-like symptoms to occupational health and constantly reminding employees to stay home if sick

Singleton said the company is actively communicating with its workers about precautions and that the communication has been “good.”

It is offering unpaid leave for any workers uncomfortable with working in the current conditions. He said there is no time limitation for the absence, the company just asks workers touch base every two weeks.

He said there will be no penalties for extended absences and the company will be “supportive.”

“We’re neighbors as well as employees of the plant. We have the same exact concerns, we’re doing everything we can to mitigate transmission and at the same time to continue to offer employment for folks that want and need employment," he said.

He said the plant is running at a reduced schedule, allowing for more employee distance.

He said the company is constant communication with the Alabama Department of Public Health about guidelines and has its own occupational health team on-site.

Singleton the company has options to reduce or rearrange its production schedules.

Alabama Department of Public Health Northern District Administrator Judy Smith said the department is actively investigating the cases in Marshall County and did not connect Wayne Farms to the county’s spike in case totals.

She said any theoretical shut down order would come after consulting all parties.

Marshall Medical Center spokesperson Claudette DeMuth said there are five COVID-19 hospitalizations in the MMC system.

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