What appeared like dozens of workers walked out of a Palmyra food packing plant on Thursday because of coronavirus concerns.
The walkout occurred at a Hershey Company-owned, XPO-operated facility at 500 N. Lingle Ave., Palmyra.
“We demand an explanation of why they did not close the factory since there was an infected person and they kept it quiet,” an employee at the facility said Thursday evening.
The worker — who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution — said a company manager confirmed to employees that there were actually three infected people at the site.
Employees don’t feel safe, the anonymous worker said.
Video of the walkout shows dozens of workers — it’s hard to see exactly how many — standing in clusters outside the Palmyra worksite. A supervisor tells employees that they are sanitizing work areas twice weekly, and they are bringing in larger tables to keep workers spaced further apart.
“We want everybody safe,” the unidentified supervisor says.
Floors are marked to keep workers at least six feet between them, he said in the video, but “you have to stand on the marks. People keep gravitating together.”
It’s unclear, though, if there are any confirmed cases there. The supervisor in the video says that, if a positive case of COVID-19 is confirmed, “we will shut everything down … and deep-clean the building.”
Anyone who worked with the infected person would not be allowed to return to work for 14 days or else return with a note from a doctor saying they tested negative, the supervisor says.
Meanwhile, he says, the company is sending “sending extra people home to reduce crowding.”
“It’s pretty simple,” he says. “We’re not forcing anybody to work. If you don’t feel comfortable, you don’t have to work.”
Some of the workers in the video asked if they will get unemployment if they choose to go home while the facility is still open. They did not appear to get an immediate response.
The worker, still speaking anonymously, said they are packing food products that people can buy in a store, suggesting that contagions could be transmitted that way to consumers. Employees in the video say that chocolate is not an essential commodity, so the facility should be closed.
Jeff Beckman, director of corporate communications for Hershey, directed questions to XPO Logistics, based in Greenwich, Connecticut. Beckman said XPO runs the packing plant and employs the workers there.
Bob Josephson, vice president of communications for XPO, said in an email Friday that the Palmyra facility “was closed yesterday and today” for cleaning.
He also said the company provides “up to three additional days of paid leave for employees affected by workplace closures when sanitization is needed following COVID-19 exposure.”
That’s in addition, he said, to up to two weeks of paid sick leave (up to 10 days, or 80 hours) from March 1 through May 15 for full-time employees who are being tested for COVID-19 or are awaiting test results, who are under mandatory quarantine ordered by a government authority or healthcare provider, who share a household with someone who is waiting COVID-19 test results, or who is self-quarantined because of recent travel.
Josephson said XPO is taking measures to protect its employees.
“Obviously we know people are worried and we are taking every step possible,” he said in a separate email Thursday evening. “It is my understanding two employees have been in self quarantine for two weeks, and one confirmed positive case yesterday. This site specifically has been deep cleaned every weekend, they created barriers to keep people six feet apart, and they are rigorous about the enhanced cleaning between shifts.
“They’ve also removed chairs from the lunchroom to ensure people are not sitting next to each other or across from each other.”
XPO also is providing sanitizer and gloves to all employees to limit exposure to the virus.
Josephson shared information from another XPO facility in Lebanon, Indiana, where an employee tested positive for COVID-19 and the site was closed March 31 for cleaning. The site reopened April 1 for all shifts.
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This post was updated to clarify that the 500 N. Lingle Ave. building is owned by Hershey.