Farmerville plant employees fearful of COVID-19 spread

(Source: KNOE)
(Source: KNOE)(KNOE)
Published: Mar. 31, 2020 at 6:45 PM CDT
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The Foster Farms plant in Farmerville is continuing operations despite several employees testing positive for COVID-19. Several employees are concerned about the potential spread of the virus.

KNOE spoke with one worker who wanted to stay anonymous. She says she’s fearful, because she doesn’t want to catch the virus. “It’s serious, way serious. And, our job is not taking it seriously,” she says.

“Their only concern is running chicken. It’s not about our safety, not about our family. None of that. It’s only about the chicken. As long as the chicken still running, Foster Farms fine.”

She says the plant shut down on Friday for sanitation but resumed the next day. “They closed us down for one day to say they sanitized, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t do anything but spray water.”

The Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s Office confirmed an inmate, who was on work release there, also tested positive for the virus. Union Parish sheriff Dusty Gates confirmed two more inmates as well. All three inmates are in isolation now.

Gates says they don’t plan on allowing any inmates to return to the plant in the near future.

“The chicken that they’re producing could have COVID-19 on it. And, they don’t care about that, the employee says. “Women are pregnant that work up there and all that, and they aren’t caring.”

Meanwhile, she says workers aren’t given the option to stay home if they don’t feel safe working there. “You’re telling us you don’t know if we’re going to lose our job and now you don’t know if you can protect our jobs, because we don’t feel safe. That ain’t right.”

They’re also having to navigate between feeding and protecting their families. “I understand we’re essential workers, and we provide for everybody, but at the end of the day, we still have to provide for our families and keep our families safe.”

Foster Farms did confirm several employees tested positive for COVID-19. They responded saying in part that it "is committed to ensuring the continued health and wellbeing of our employees, consumers, suppliers and communities."

The entire statement is below:

"Today, our company and our nation are responding to an unprecedented challenge. Coronavirus (COVID-19) has touched the very fabric of American life at home, and at work. Foster Farms is committed to ensuring the continued health and wellbeing of our employees, consumers, suppliers and communities as we work to ensure the availability of food on our nation’s shelves. On March 26, Foster Farms learned that employees at its Farmerville, Louisiana poultry facility confirmed positive for COVID-19. Out of respect for employee privacy, the company cannot provide any further details. We extend our hopes and support for the full recovery of our coworkers.

Foster Farms is following the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) guidance in consultation with Farmerville public health authorities and has implemented the following practices to protect our coworkers:

• The company has expanded the rigorous sanitation and personal hygiene measures that are the core of our Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and Hazard and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans. As part of on-going operating practices plant sanitation is approved by USDA daily.

• Foster Farms is implementing temperature-based Wellness Checks at each company facility.

• Foster Farms has added handwashing & sanitizer stations throughout our facilities, limited travel and implemented screening of all outside visitors.

• We have added more break area space at our larger facilities to permit greater social distancing with more tables, chairs and tents for additional seating.

• We have implemented continuous cleaning of breakrooms and other common areas.

Additionally, we are actively communicating with all Foster Farms employees to provide guidance should they experience symptoms of COVID-19 or come into contact with someone who has confirmed positive for COVID-19.

• Any Foster Farms employee who is sick and showing symptoms of COVID-19 at home has been advised to self-quarantine and seek medical attention.

• Any Foster Farms employee that develops symptoms of COVID-19 while at work will be sent home and advised to self-quarantine and seek medical attention.

• In the case of a confirmed COVID-19 positive employee, Foster Farms will immediately determine those employees who have had close contact with the diagnosed individual and advise that they self-quarantine and seek medical attention.

• Employees age 65 and older or those with underlying health conditions have been advised that they may be at higher risk for COVID-19, as per the CDC. Foster Farms strongly recommends these employees consider remaining home from work. HR managers will meet with employee to address additional concerns.

• Foster Farms is taking steps to ensure employees taking time away from work owing to COVID-19 are compensated.

As a sign of our continued appreciation for our hourly employees coming in each day to our plants and offices, we have established Appreciation Pay, a temporary wage increase between March 22 and April 18, 2020. As per CDC guidance, we have distributed COVID-19 prevention communications to employees by mail, email, via facility signage and in person updates.

It is important to note that the CDC, FDA, USDA and the World Health Organization all say that food is not known to be a route of transmission of COVID-19.

Please be assured, Foster Farms is committed to the health and wellbeing of our employees in Louisiana and companywide. We are committed to getting through this challenging time together."