COVID-19 has some Batesburg plant workers concerned for safety

News

BATESBURG, S.C. (WJBF) — Employees at Amick Farms in Batesburg say they are concerned for their safety. “I feel like we’re forced to come in here,” Beverly Thomas told NewsChannel 6’s Shawn Cabbagestalk.

According to its company website, nearly 3,000 people work at the two Amick Farms locations in South Carolina and Maryland. “We are a food chain company and understand that we have to feed the nation,” Antoine Brown said.

Beyond the walls in Batesburg, a COVID-19 outbreak that employees say, they’re told, is a large number of people but only three being reported. “My understanding is there are more than three cases. So why would you send out a newsletter stating about three people, but we have more cases,” Thomas asked.

Newschannel 6 contacted the plant hoping to find out what happened to cause the numbers employees are reporting. Shawn was told that the person he needed to speak with was not available and he will be given a phone call back. Fifteen minutes after his 3:30 p.m. deadline for WJBF NewsChannel 6 at 4, at 3:45 p.m., Shawn received the following statement:

“As part of our nation’s essential critical infrastructure, all food production facilities have a
special responsibility to maintain our country’s food supply during this national emergency. The
science of COVID-19, along with information from the USDA and FDA, tells us that the virus that
causes COVID-19 is not spread through the food supply.

Government regulations already require food production facilities to operate under strict
requirements for cleaning and sanitation. Each evening, Amick Farms conducts a full sanitation
under regulatory programs, with chemical foaming, scrubbing, wash down, sanitization, and
environmental microbiological monitoring performed in each production area.

To ensure the well-being of its team members, Amick Farms has implemented programs,
procedures, and practices that conform with COVID-19 guidance from the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC) and local health authorities. The primary focus of these efforts is
to meet or exceed all CDC and local health department guidance for COVID-19 to help protect
the well-being of the company’s team members and their families.

Some examples include:
• Starting on March 12, 2020, restricted access to external visitors.
• Starting March 16, 2020, implemented continuous cleaning and disinfection of common
areas and surfaces, including breakrooms, restrooms, offices, doorknobs, vending
machines, handrails and desks, using only EPA registered sanitizers effective against the
COVID-19 virus.
• Provide each team member with appropriate personal protective equipment, including
masks and gloves. All employees wash their hands multiple times per shift as part of our
long-standing food sanitation protocols.
• Perform thermal temperature checks on all team members prior to entering the facility.
• Educate all team members on the importance of proper hand hygiene, refraining from
touching the face and COVID-19 symptoms.
• Installed additional hands-free sanitizing stations to foster routine use by team
members.
• Implemented staggered break times to enhance social distancing and increased
breakroom areas to facilitate spacing.
• Any team members who may have a confirmed test or diagnosis for COVID-19 expected
to follow CDC guidance for essential workers.
• Developed an in-depth close contact investigation process using the CDC risk
assessment criteria.
• Developed a COVID-related paid leave program.”

Brittni Miller
Communications Manager
Amick Farms, LLC.

“Where’s their integrity? Let us know what’s going on because we’re putting our lives on the line every single day coming in here working,” Thomas added.

Shawn spoke with a number of employees who spent a combined more than 20 years at the plant. They all say that the plant is, in fact, taking preventative measures. Our cameras were rolling as staff members were doing temperature checks and sanitizing outside the main entrance. But new hires are still being recruited, possibly bringing in the virus. We found this flyer posted to Facebook announcing the plant is hiring — noting the implementation of extra measures to protect the health of team members.

“It just like if someone comes into your house and you disarm your security alarm. That person’s coming in, invading the territory. So I feel like at the end of the day, you know before you can bring in new hirees, you need to take care of what’s going on inside the house,” Brown said.

We’re told social distancing is not an option for this type of assembly-line work. “We work close by each other and I feel my life is in jeopardy,” Thomas said. “Anytime I hear somebody cough, I’m going in another direction that’s how bad it is and we should not have to work like this,” she added.

Due to being critical to the nation’s food supply, workers are considered essential. Many are wondering if hazard pay and deep cleaning of the building could be on the table. “I think that we all should have at least a week or they should have a week to clean up and everything,” Marikka Wise said.

For those concerned about their well-being, we’re told employees could take time off without pay. It’s an option simply not available for many like Tammy Griffin. “I live from paycheck to paycheck, so that would affect me tremendously and badly cause I just got back to work,” she shared.

Shawn also contacted the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control to find out if these types of manufacturing plants required to report to the agency about any possible COVID-19 breakouts. He also wanted to learn if there are fines that can be imposed on a company for not reporting or under-reporting.

The agency provided the following statement:

The agency remains in close communication with the state’s business community, the Department of Commerce, and other state and federal agencies to provide the most current guidance to businesses of all types.

We continue to work at the regional level with businesses to offer recommendations for when or if an employee or multiple employees test positive for COVID-19 to help ensure businesses are best protecting their employees and the public. There is currently no fine in place.

S.C. State Emergency Response Team
Joint Information Center

Meanwhile, Shawn is still awaiting a response to several follow-up questions from Amick Farms including:

  1. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases at the Batesburg plant.
  2. How officials are handling new hires coming to the builing?
  3. Is there an option for hazard pay for employees?
  4. Can the plant be closed for a period of time for deep cleaning?

Count on NewsChannel 6 to keep you updated on what we find out.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trending Stories