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Butterball worker speaks out over COVID-19 outbreak

(WITN)
Published: May. 5, 2020 at 8:48 PM EDT
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Employees at the Butterball Turkey production plant in Duplin County are speaking out, saying they're worried for their health and their job security, as their worksite is a COVID-19 hotspot.

Several Butterball employees have been reaching out to WITN, saying they do not feel safe going to work there.

Employees say social distancing is not implemented in the factory, and work stations are too close together for them to socially distance themselves.

They also said management is continuing to penalize employees for leaving early or not coming into work when their reasoning is because they do not feel safe. They said this is tallied using a point system, and once 5 points are accrued, a person can be fired.

WITN reached out to Butterball about this. They said, "Social distancing is being enforced wherever possible inside the facility. Where not possible, employees are wearing surgical-grade face masks and protective shields to serve as a physical barrier. Any employee told to stay home due to COVID-19 is being paid and not incurring attendance points, whether because they are awaiting test results, have tested positive, have been asked by a health professional to self-isolate due to being in close contact with someone that has tested positive, or was flagged during internal screening measures. We are working very closely with the health department and following guidance from the CDC and USDA to ensure we are doing what we can to keep our workforce safe. We are working closely with the health department to identify anyone who has been in close contact with someone who has tested positive and asking those individuals to self-isolate at home for a period of 14 days with pay and benefits. This exceeds the recommendations by the CDC for food processors. Offering added PPE like surgical-grade masks and face shields and enforcing social distancing where possible helps us prevent the spread of COVID-19 from anyone who is asymptomatic and may not know they are sick."

One employee we talked with did not want to be identified for fear of termination, but said, "I bust my tail just so they can get this turkey out, but now we're in a panic mode, the whole world is panicking. Every day somebody goes home and you're just wondering, OK, like have I been in contact with this person? Is this person going to test positive? And then you have to go back home to your family. It's just really a scary situation where you have to choose your job over everything else because you have bills to pay."

The health department confirmed the first COVID-19 related death of a Duplin County resident on Saturday, and two additional deaths Tuesday. The health department did not say where these people may have worked.

There are 142 COVID-19 cases currently in Duplin County.

Positive cases are counted based on where a person lives, meaning it is possible that many of the Butterball employees do not live in Duplin County. Those positive cases would be counted in whatever county they live in, so the numbers at the plant do not necessarily completely coincide with the Duplin County cases.