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COVID-19 at Tyson Foods in Camilla: Union Says Two Workers Dead, Several Quarantined

CAMILLA, Ga. (CW69 News at 10) -- A union representing poultry workers said a company failed to put proper protocols in place that could have prevented deaths and quarantines related to COVID-19.

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) reported in an April 7 press release that two Tyson Foods workers in Camilla who tested positive for coronavirus have died and several workers are sick or now under quarantine.

The union said it represents 2,000 employees at the Camilla plant and said Tyson's delayed response to the coronavirus epidemic and failure to implement social distancing and provide personal protective equipment (PPEs) to workers resulted in the deaths and positive cases.

While RWDSU represents workers at a number of U.S. supply chains, including General Mills and Coca-Cola, it said "the poultry industry as a whole is getting it wrong, and the consequences of its slow response are fatal for too many RWDSU members."

Edgar Fields, President of the Southeast Council of the RWDSU, said in the release:

What's happening in Camilla, Georgia is a clear example of how not to do things. It's too little too late here, and I hope sharing our story will help stop other communities from being exploited by corporate America. Our members have been pleading with the company for weeks, and the company has done nothing here. When I speak to our members I hear real fear in their voices, and their voices must be heard. The poultry industry can and must act now.

RWDSU called on the poultry industry to take swift action and listed several demands, including notifying union and workforce officials when an employee tests positive for coronavirus and shutting down for at least 72 hours to implement health and safety procedures and install applicable safety equipment.

Worth Sparkman with Tyson Foods' External Communications issued this response:

We continue working diligently to protect our team members at Camilla and elsewhere against what many industries around the world have learned is a challenging and ever-changing situation. We were one of the first food companies to start taking worker temperatures before they enter our facilities. We also stepped up deep cleaning in our plants and implemented social distancing measures, such as installing dividers between workstations and increasing the space between workers on the production floor by slowing production lines. Workers at Camilla and other locations have access to protective face coverings, which we were actively sourcing before the CDC released its recent guidance advising that individuals wear facial coverings, and we're aggressively securing more from sources around the world.  We've been in frequent contact with the RWDSU and the UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers union) about the measures we've taken to protect our team members.

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