SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Workers at the Tyson Chicken plant in Shelbyville say the company is not doing enough to keep them safe.
The Metro Health Department is investigating a possible cluster of COVID-19 cases at the Tyson plant in Goodlettsville.
Sickness at meat plants across the country has raised concern about the supply of meat nationwide.
The union that represents workers at the Shelbyville plant praised Tyson for what it is doing to keep workers safe while also keeping the plant open.
Workers told NewsChannel 5 Investigates at least 17 people at the Shelbyville plant have tested positive for COVID-19.
The plant employs around one thousand people.
Several employees reached out to NewsChannel 5 Investigates to discuss concerns about their safety and concern about the safety of their families.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Why are you hiding your identity?"
One worker responded, "To keep our job."
Those who spoke with us hid their faces under blankets because they could no longer hide their fear.
"I don't know if I came in contact with somebody who already has it," a worker said.
Another said, "I'm scared. I know I got to work. Ain't nobody handing me nothing. So, I know I got to go there. I'm going there putting my life on the line to make sure they get the chicken out."
But their biggest fear is taking the virus home to their families.
"I don't know if I have it or not. So for me to try and be around my family, I try to keep a distance from them because I'm the only one who's still working," a worker said.
The president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) Mid-South Council which represents workers at the Shelbyville plant said Tyson is taking the virus seriously.
"Even with Tyson putting up all the safety precautions they can put up, it's still a huge fear factor," Hadley said.
Hadley said the company is buying equipment to take people's temperature when they come to work.
It is separating people, providing face masks and encouraging them to stay home if they're sick.
"We've got to get the product out to the country. It's something that is affecting the meat industry all over the country right now," Hadley said.
But workers at the Shelbyville plant said they would feel better if the plant shut down for a few days so it could be deep cleaned.
"Shut it down and clean it up," one worker said emphasizing they have been told 17 employees at the plant have tested positive for COVID-19.
But Hadley said, "We shut it down and we clean it then they re-open it, and they come right back and we've got people that's got the germ. It's back there again. What do you do, you just keep shutting it down?"
Workers said at one point Tyson offered a $500 bonus for workers who don't miss a day over the next three months.
But workers worried that simply encouraged sick people to come to work.
"It does because at the end of the day, they can't afford to miss work because they ain't got no type of money saved up to fall back on," the worker said.
Hadley said the Union was not happy with that bonus, and Tyson has now change it.
He said workers can now get the bonus if their absence is excused.
He said workers are excused for missing work because of sickness.
"Why are you wanting to speak out?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked an employee.
Because I'm afraid for my health and everybody's health," the worker responded.
For many workers their worries are the most basic of all, for their safety and the safety of the families they come home to.
The CDC has said the coronavirus is not a food safety concern.
Tyson said it is working to fulfill its critical role of keeping people fed while trying to keep its employees safe.
Here is the full statement Tyson sent to NewsChannel 5 Investigates:
"We’re working hard to protect our team members during this ever-changing situation, while also ensuring we continue fulfilling our critical role of helping feed people across the country. Measures we’re taking in our facilities to address COVID-19 include the following:
- We’re restricting visitor access to our facilities and have relaxed attendance policy to reinforce the importance of staying home when sick or to meet childcare needs.
- We’ve implemented the use of temporal thermometers to check the temperature of team members before they enter company facilities. We’ve purchased more than 150 infrared temperature scanners and, so far, have installed them at four facilities. We expect that eventually every one of our food production facilities will have at least one of these walk-through temperature scanners in place.
- We’re also coordinating with federal agencies to emphasize the need for personal protective equipment to support our team members as we remain open. We’re working to secure a supply of protective face coverings for production workers and implementing interim protocols for homemade protective coverings, while observing food safety.
- We’re implementing social distancing in our plants based on CDC and industry guidance, such as increasing the distance between workers on the production floor. And, in some cases, slowing production lines.
- We’ve been evaluating and implementing ways to promote more social distancing in our plants. For example, at some locations we’re:
- Allowing more time between shifts to reduce worker interaction.
- Giving team members more space by erecting large tents to serve as outdoor break rooms.
- Removing chairs in some break rooms so there is more space between the workers.
- Eliminating conference room meetings and the size of new orientation classes.
Our plant production areas are sanitized daily to ensure food safety, and we have stepped up deep cleaning and sanitizing of our facilities, especially in employee breakrooms, locker rooms and other areas to protect our team members. We have team members dedicated to constantly wiping down and sanitizing common areas. In some cases, this additional cleaning involves suspending a day of production.
COVID-19 is not considered a food safety concern. The CDC says [cdc.gov] “currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food.” USDA reports “There is no evidence at this time to suggest that the Coronavirus is a foodborne pathogen.” According to a statement from the FDA [fda.gov], “we are not aware of any reports at this time of human illnesses that suggest COVID-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging.”
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What is COVID-19 (a.k.a. the new coronavirus?)
According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. Examples include the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. COVID-19 stands for "Coronavirus disease 2019," which is when this strain of the coronavirus was discovered.
What are the symptoms?
The CDC says patients confirmed to have the 2019-nCoV reportedly had mild to severe respiratory illness with:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Or at least two of the following symptoms:
- Repeated shaking with chills
- Muscle pain
- Sore throat
- New loss of taste or smell
At this time, the CDC believes symptoms could appear as soon as two days after exposure, or as long as 14 days.
The CDC is recommending "common sense" measures such as:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.