'We don't feel safe:' Smithfield Foods workers concerned about COVID-19 on the job

TAR HEEL, N.C. (WTVD) -- It's the largest pork processing plant in the world and workers at the Smithfield Foods plant in Tar Heel claim not enough is being done to protect them from COVID-19.

Troubleshooter Diane Wilson continues to hear from concerned employees at the plant, including one worker who didn't want to be identified because they say they're fearful they'd lose their job.

"I want the people to see what's going on. We don't feel safe," the worker at the Bladen County plant said.

This anonymous worker said they have worked at that plant for more than five years and said that for weeks, no workers have been required to keep a safe distance apart.

RELATED: Smithfield meat plant closes after 293 employees test positive for coronavirus

"We eat 60 to 70 deep in the cafeteria. We work arm and arm; even as you walk through the hallways, we are 30, 40, 50 deep at a time," the worker said.

The worker provided these pictures that they said show employees together during a meeting that they say they were required to attend. The worker also said it is tight when they are all eating in the cafeteria.

Several employees at the pork processing plant told us they could earn a $500 bonus but claim they only get that bonus if they don't miss a day or be late to a shift in the month of April.

"So, you have to come to work every day for a month to earn your hazard pay. If not, you get nothing," the worker said.

This worker said management recently added hand sanitizers to each floor, and just in the last few days added Plexiglas to certain areas, including the cafeteria as well as the thermal screening of employees at the start of each shift. They also claim masks were given out Tuesday to employees, but they said if someone gets sick on the job, not enough is being done.

"Once you report somebody has symptoms, they just send them home for the doctor to diagnose them and let the doctor clear them to come back," the worker said. "However, the damage is already done once they are there."

The Troubleshooter reached out to Smithfield Foods, and a representative directed me to its website. On their website, it states in part the following:

We have instituted a series of stringent and detailed processes and protocols that follow the strict guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to effectively manage any potential COVID-19 cases in our operations. These include mandatory 14-day COVID-19 related quarantines with pay as an uncompromising effort to protect our dedicated employees. We've also relaxed attendance policies to eliminate any punitive effect for missing work due to COVID-19 diagnosis or quarantine.

In addition, we are taking the following measures to minimize our team members' risks of catching COVID-19:

  • Added extra hand sanitizing stations
  • Boosted personal protective equipment
  • Continuing to stress importance of personal hygiene
  • Enhanced cleaning and disinfection
  • Expanded employee health benefits
  • Implementing thermal scanning
  • Increased social distancing in common areas
  • Installed plexiglass barriers
  • Restricting all nonessential visitors

All these actions complement the extensive safety measures in place at all our locations and are on top of the extremely hygienic and sanitary environments maintained at all times in our industry for food safety and quality purposes. We're also ensuring employees know how to protect themselves and others from COVID-19 and making certain that they know how COVID-19 spreads. We continue to actively monitor CDC guidance, as well as that of state and local health authorities and are immediately taking all necessary actions to protect our employees.

While the workers who reached out to ABC11 said they appreciate any increased safety measures, they still worry.

One worker asked: "Is it worth our lives because truly they don't see what goes on behind these doors how unsafe and unsanitary it is, especially during these times?"
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