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As our country continues to practice social distancing and “non-essential” businesses close for the foreseeable future, each day countless workers leave their homes, go to work, and risk becoming infected with COVID-19. Nowhere is this risk more apparent than in the food industry.
On April 8, 2020, the Associated Press reported that a Smithfield Foods pork processing plant in South Dakota would temporarily close after state health officials said more than 80 plant workers tested positive for COVID-19. The union representing the plant workers said more than 120 had confirmed infections. Unbelievably, just a week later, CBS News reported that 644 people with connections to the plant were infected, including 518 employees. Remarkably, hourly employees at this plant were offered a $500 bonus for not missing work in April.
In Tar Heel, North Carolina, ABC (WTVD) reported that at the Smithfield Foods plant, which is the largest pork processing plant in the world, workers claimed not enough was being done to protect them from COVID-19. It reported that while working or on break, no workers were required to keep a safe distance from each other. Like the South Dakota Smithfield plant, employees at the Tar Heel plant could earn a $500 bonus for not missing work in April.
Locally, CBS (WBOC-16) reported that as the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 in poultry plants continued to rise, workers in the Mountaire Farms poultry plant in Millsboro were afraid that they might be next. There, workers, who were scared for their own health, demanded more action from the plant. The report noted that poultry workers were faced with not enough workspace to practice social distancing and not everyone was wearing masks.
In Milford, the Cape Gazette reported that Perdue Farms closed its processing plant on March 30 after two employees tested positive for COVID-19. According to the Cape Gazette, Perdue said that the plant was closed to conduct a top-to-bottom cleaning, and anyone who may have encountered the affected employees was notified of CDC guidelines regarding potential exposure. In addition, Purdue said that the two employees were in quarantine for 14 days and would still receive their pay with no attendance penalty.
Putting aside the new risks of contracting COVD-19, working in the food processing industry has always been an extremely hazardous occupation. The United States Department of Labor has found numerous serious safety and health hazards in the poultry processing industry, including exposure to high noise levels, dangerous equipment, slippery floors, musculoskeletal disorders, and hazardous chemicals, including ammonia that is used as a refrigerant.
In these difficult times, the Wilmington Workers’ Compensation lawyers at Rhoades & Morrow are dedicated to fighting for the rights of injured workers and their families. If you would like more information, contact us online or call us at 302-427-9500 for a free consultation. Located in Wilmington, Milford, and Bear, Delaware, we serve clients throughout the state, including Middletown, Dover, Milford, Hillsborough, Lewes, Rehoboth, Elsmere, and Seaford.