‘I can’t touch them’: Smithfield worker fearful of virus spreading to her family

Workers are Smithfield Foods in Crete are expressing concerns about working amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 
Katrina Web

(KLKN/AP) — Workers are Smithfield Foods in Crete are expressing concerns about working amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was announced Tuesday the facility would remain open, with workplace changes including employees having reduced shifts and receiving salary bumps.

One worker, who did not wish to be identified, told Channel 8 Eyewitness News she’s fearful she’ll contract the virus and spread it to her family.

“My kids have to stay with my mom,” she said. “I can’t touch them or anything because there is a lot of people that are infected.”

The worker says despite the fears held by many of her coworkers, they have no choice but to go to work. She said her husband passed away and her family relies on a single income.

“I hope it closes so they can disinfect everything or we could get tested,” she said.

Cellphone videos obtained by Channel 8 Eyewitness News show what appears to be dozens of workers rallying at the plant. Between 50-100 workers walked off the job after company officials announced that the facility would remain open, just hours after they had said it would close to contain an outbreak.

The walkout wasn’t union-sanctioned, and the workers eventually went back into the plant to discuss their concerns with managers. But a local union representative said it highlights the stress many workers are feeling as they work “elbow to elbow, shoulder to shoulder” cutting and packaging meat.

“They’re scared,” Eric Reeder, president of the United Food & Commercial Workers Local 293, which represents meatpacking throughout the state, told the Associated Press. “They want the company to be more transparent.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, Crete Mayor Dave Bauer told Channel 8 Eyewitness News he had not spoken to any Smithfield employees, but said he hopes the community will pull together.

“We need to step up our game plan,” he said. “And I think the citizens of Crete, instead of letting their guard down right now, need to build that up as much as possible and we need all their help to communicate with their neighbors, their friends, their families that we need to follow the governor’s guidelines.”

Not long after the rally, testing took place behind the Crete Foodmart on Main Ave. The Bryan Health mobile testing conducted as many as 160 tests, and the line of vehicles remained steady throughout the three hours they were there. Results of the testing are expected to be released later this week.


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