COVID case prompts protest

Published 11:36 am Thursday, April 23, 2020

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LEWISTON – Approximately 60 employees protested work at Perdue’s processing facility near here on Wednesday after learning that one of their co-workers was infected with the COVID-19 virus.

“After talking with team leaders, most of the associates returned to work, though some went home,” said Diana Souder, Director of Corporate Communications and Brand PR with Perdue Farms, Inc.

She added that there are over 1,700 associates working at the Lewiston facility.

The protest apparently took place as the second shift was reporting to work on Wednesday afternoon.

According to Souder, the confirmed case of COVID-19 at the Lewiston facility isn’t the first in the company.

“We’ve decided not to specify every individual case moving forward out of respect for our associates’ privacy under applicable confidentiality guidelines, but our pandemic response protocols include notifying associates who were potentially exposed to the affected person,” she stated.

In response to questions from the R-C News-Herald, Souder said, “the safety and well-being of our associates is our primary concern and we seek to keep an open line of communication with them so they can share their concerns and we can continue to adapt our response to this pandemic. A number of employees at our Lewiston, NC facility understandably were concerned after our first detection of COVID-19 at the plant. Upon learning of any diagnosis in our plants, Perdue immediately enacts our pandemic response protocols, which include, among many other steps, notifying associates who were potentially exposed to the affected person and working with the local health department while following strict guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).”

Souder added that extensive measures have been put in place at all Perdue facilities since early March to facilitate social distancing, fully utilize the Wellness Centers that are available to associates free of charge, and offer flexibilities with pay and leave policies to relieve stress associated with this crisis, especially for those who are ill or may need to care for family members.

Where social distancing isn’t possible in a production facility, Perdue has installed temporary dividers between their associates on production lines. The dividers are cleaned or replaced between every shift.

Everyone entering a production facility must have their temperature taken each day by trained testers. Anyone with a temperature at or above applicable health department guidelines will be directed to that facility’s onsite Wellness Center for further screening and instruction.

Disposable face masks are used at all production facilities.

The company has waived the five-day waiting period of short-term disability for any associate who contracts COVID-19, so that he or she can receive immediate benefits.

All hourly associates have received a $1-per-hour pay raise and all Piece Rate associates (such as Perdue truck drivers) received a $40-per-week pay increase. These temporary increases went into effect on March 23 and last until May 10.

“Perdue is aware that this pandemic is creating stress for many of our associates and their families beyond the immediate health concerns. That is why, in addition to additional safety precautions in our facilities, Perdue has taken steps to increase compensation for our employees and create flexibilities in our leave policies,” Souder said.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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