Tyson employee: Workplace unsafe

Friday, April 3, 2020
A local Tyson Foods Inc., Shelbyville plant employee is concerned that there is not enough social distancing going on within the local chicken facility.
Submitted photo

Tyson Foods Inc., is currently listed as a Fortune 100 company due to its profits from being the world’s largest producer of chicken, pork and beef products. Despite Bedford County now having six confirmed cases of the coronavirus, the plant continues to produce as an “essential” state workplace amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

One Shelbyville Tyson Plant employee believes workers are looked upon, particularly during the current coronavirus, as expendable. He believes social distancing isn’t being taken seriously.

The Tyson employee, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of potentially losing his job, told the Times-Gazette Wednesday that he believes public health is at risk within the confines of the local plant at 901 West Jackson St.

“The virus [COVID-19] can be asymptomatic . . . people may not realize they’re sick and at work there for two weeks,” he said.

From the top

When contacted Wednesday about the employee’s concerns, and given the chance to look at a photo taken where dozens of team members recently packed into one area to clock in, Tyson’s corporate office in Arkansas emailed the Times-Gazette this statement:

“As America’s largest food company, we’re considered a critical infrastructure business, so ensuring we’re able to continue producing food is essential. That’s why we’re taking measures to protect our people and our company.”

Worth Sparkman with the company’s external communications in Arkansas said, “ We’ve been diligently educating team members about the virus and ways to avoid catching it. We’re restricting visitor access to our plants and have also relaxed our attendance policy to reinforce the importance of staying home when sick.”

Sparkman said any employee with such issues as this anonymous one is welcome to contact the corporate office in Arkansas with those concerns.

Precautions

“As a precaution, we’re also taking team member temperatures before they enter our facilities, will soon be supplying protective facial coverings (we’re working to source them), encouraging social distancing where possible and staggering break times. We’re also doing additional cleaning and sanitation in break rooms, lockers and other areas, and discourage travel other than to work.”

A memo by Tyson’s Chief Executive Officer Noel White was also included in the email to the Times-Gazette. He stated: “Protecting team members and ensuring the continuity of our business are essential as we continue efforts to address COVID-19 (coronavirus.) We’ve been actively monitoring this situation continually adjusting our approach as we learn more about the spread of this virus. As a precaution, we’re also taking team member temperatures before they enter our facilities. We’re doing additional cleaning and sanitation in break rooms, lockers and other areas. Additionally, we’ll be offering protective face coverings for production workers who request them and are working with the CDC [Centers for Disease Control] on additional guidance on the use of personal protective equipment.”

The concerned Tyson employee believes there’s currently a bigger picture on site — one which corporate in Arkansas might not be aware is happening.

Travelers

“We have people who work there [Tyson] who live in Murfreesboro and Nashville,” the plant employee said.

Those two cities are hot spots with coronavirus cases — Nashville has hundreds and Murfreesboro has more than 110, as reported by the Tennessee Department of Health.

“When do the essentials start becoming expendable?” he asked.

Gov. Bill Lee continues to caution Tennesseans about staying at home and social distancing in the wake of the pandemic. In his Executive Order No. 22, Gov. Bill Lee stated: “ . . . “essential businesses should follow health guidelines. For those offices, workplaces and businesses that remain open as permitted by the Order, employers should take steps to the greatest extent practicable to equip and permit employees to work from home and employees and their customers should practice good hygiene and observe the Health Guidelines and necessary precautions advised by the President and CDC to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

Sparkman advised the Order provides exceptions for agricultural businesses like Tyson Foods. The governor did include in Executive Order No. 22 “essential businesses,” which means the plant will be allowed to continue to operate at its discretion during the pandemic.

The concerned Tyson employee said in response that he may be looked upon as simply a company “whistle-blower;” he’s OK with that as he’s witnessing daily what he said is the truth of the matter. He also understands how the Shelbyville plant is located in an at-will employment state, which means Tyson and other companies have a lot of rights under state law regarding such management of its employees.

“But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care about the workers,” he said.