NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Workers inside the flattened candle factory said they were threatened with being fired if they left work due to the tornado threat.
It's a miracle Jamie Rudolph is alive. Rudolph said, "because even though I felt so weak, I thought I was going to die underneath there, I really did."
She's recovering at Vanderbilt University Medical Center after being pulled from the rubble at Mayfield Consumer Products.
"I’m just glad my wife is still here," her husband Tim Rudolph said.
During the rescue operation, Tim talked to his wife's co-workers. He said they were told they'd be penalized if they left work.
"Told them nobody could leave or else they’d get fired," Rudolph said.
Other workers reported the same verbiage earlier this week.
"I said, 'man, are you gonna refuse to let us leave even if the weather is this bad and the tornado's not even here yet? Elijah Johnson said. "So he was like, 'if you want to decide to leave, if you want to leave, you can leave, but you're gonna be terminated, you're gonna be fired.'"
Eight people at the candle factory died from the tornado.
"I can’t sleep hardly, it’s hurting me a lot," Rudolph said.
The CEO of the candle factory issued a statement on what happened. It said in part:
“We're confident that our team leaders acted entirely appropriately and were, in fact, heroic in their efforts to shelter our employees. We are hearing accounts from a few employees that our procedures were not followed.”
They noted there would be an internal review, and they would seek input on their emergency plan.
Meanwhile, a lawsuit has been filed by workers against the candle factory. It said the company had an obligation to protect them because they knew about the tornado threat more than three hours in advance.
Rudolph said, "I don’t think that’s right." Tim believes if Jamie had been home, she'd be safe, because the tornado didn't touch their town.
The lawsuit says employees were urged to keep working even with a three hour warning that a tornado was coming -- when sirens sounded for the first time in the county at 6 p.m.
According to the lawsuit, the candle factory "even threatened to terminate any employee that left because of the expected tornado in the hours before the tornado actually hit."
The lawsuit says that company leaders may have kept the danger of the approaching tornado from employees, with one employee quoted as saying, "not one supervisor told us what was really going on."
OSHA will investigate. It's protocol whenever there's a workplace death, and has nothing to do with the lawsuit.