MORTON, Miss. (WJTV) – Across the nation, meatpacking plants are seeing a jump in the Coronavirus infecting people in their plants disrupting the nation’s food chain. In Mississippi, some are speaking out in fear of their health at work.
Despite being a mostly rural area, Scott County has seen the highest spike in Coronavirus cases bringing a total of 296 as of Wednesday afternoon. The third highest in Mississippi. Several employees with the poultry plants are accusing their worksites of contributing to the hotspots.
Outside the main employee entrance at the Koch Foods plant in Morton sits a sign reading “Heroes Work Here”. But for some, the plant’s actions are not living up to those words.
“I feel like they should have shut down until it was over,” one lady in the de-bone department argued.
Employees of this plant who wished to remain anonymous shared their frustration with management being careless for their health.
“Our lives should be more important than some chicken,” a worker told us. “We’re really risking our lives and family. I make boxes in de-bone and every few seconds you can hardly turn around without touching somebody.”
“Some people have to take care of their moms, some people have to take care of their grandma,” a man also from the de-bone department explained. “Like I have to take care of my kids and I can’t be in my mom’s house because of the virus and we don’t know who has it at the plant.”
Both workers did point out in the past weeks Koch Foods has forced every employee to take their temperature before their shift and provide face masks. Also in the de-bone department, they recently put in some barriers for those working side by side on the belts. The state health department is taking notice.
“In our engagement with the poultry industry by in large they’re very aggressive in making sure their workers are screened coming in for the most part,” Dr. Thomas Dobbs said in a Tuesday press conference.
One worker whose sister tested positive at the Forest plant doesn’t believe these steps go far enough. And if you can’t be tested but still feel sick you’re expected to come to work.
“There is a QA lady, she had come back on a Thursday to get her paycheck and I was less than two feet away from her,” the employee said. “And she had the Coronavirus. She told me herself.”
Under the Center for Disease Control recommendations for poultry processing workers droplets of COVID-19 contaminating surfaces including tools, work stations, and shared break rooms can be another overlooked factor spreading Coronavirus.
But for a lady in de-bone not taking the risk will cost her entire income because she hasn’t earned paid sick leave while off or able to be tested.
“They have insurance where you can pay for a disability. I haven’t even made it to the 60-day mark to where I even got insurance,” she said. “I don’t even have health insurance. If you’re sick and you miss work you’re getting pointed unless you have the Coronavirus. You’re allowed to get 7.5 points, if you get to 8 you’re terminated. So people are still going into work whether they’re sick or not.”
On numerous occasions, we reached out to Koch Foods corporate office for further comment but got no response.
This is not the first time Koch Foods employees had disputes with management. Back in 2018, the company had to settle a nearly $4 million lawsuit after sexual harassment charges were brought forth against them by mostly Latina workers. That settlement was exactly one year before the ICE raid back in August.