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Union demands Tyson temporarily close Shelbyville plant after spike in COVID-19 cases

Positive cases rise to 120
Tyson Plant .jpg
Posted at 5:12 PM, Apr 22, 2020

SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Employees at the Tyson Chicken plant in Shelbyville, Tennessee are demanding the company temporarily shut down the plant.

The union that represents workers at the plant and food processing workers across the country claims 79 employees at the Shelbyville plant have tested positive for COVID-19.

Now the union is urging Tyson to close the plant for ten days to do a deep cleaning.

Randy Hadley with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) asked Tyson to close the plant during a meeting Tuesday.

He said the number of cases at the plant show things are not under control.

"Our numbers have increased and they continue to increase. Something's got to happen," Hadley said.

He urged employees to get tested, to wear masks and practice social distancing.

"We expect Tyson and we're demanding that Tyson do their part, and we have to do our part on the other end," Hadley said.

Tyson sent a statement and a video from Senior Vice President Hector Gonzales, but did not address whether the company planned to close the Shelbyville plant.

The statement from Gonzales was about all of Tyson's plants.

"This is an ever changing situation and we are committed to exploring every way possible to keep our team members safe," Gonzales said on the video.

Tyson said plants have installed work station dividers.

Employees are now wearing masks and the company has changed break rooms to allow for social distancing.

The company statement included, "As an added precaution, we may sometimes suspend a day of production to complete an additional deep clean of facilities."

"We are extremely grateful for the work our team members are doing," Gonzales said on the video.

Last week employees hid their identities and talked to NewsChannel 5 Investigates about their safety concerns.

Many feared taking the virus home to their families.

Workers told us there were 17 cases of COVID-19 at the Shelbyville plant last week.

Hadley said 79 cases takes things to a new level.

He said the plant, which has around 1000 employees, has a lot of workers who drive in from Nashville where many more people have tested positive for the virus.

He theorized that is why the plant has so many cases, but he added many food processing plants across the country have seen large numbers of cases.

"This is a serious situation we are about to go into. It's not just at Tyson in Shelbyville," Hadley said.

Hadley said this is a safety issue for all of Bedford County, not just the workers inside that plant.

Here is the entire statement Tyson sent:

Our workplace safety efforts are significant and strictly enforced. 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, installing workstation dividers and barriers in our breakrooms (example photos are attached). 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 significantly stepped up deep cleaning and sanitizing of our facilities, especially in employee breakrooms, locker rooms and other areas to protect our team members. As an added precaution, we may sometimes suspend a day of production to complete an additional deep clean of facilities.

Since this is an ever-changing situation, we’re not sharing specific numbers.


See all our coronavirus coverage here


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:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

Or at least two of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Repeated shaking with chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • 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.