Community holds car rally to support poultry plant workers

The car rally approaching George's in Harrisonburg.
The car rally approaching George's in Harrisonburg.(WHSV)
Published: Apr. 27, 2020 at 7:16 PM EDT
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With more coronavirus cases emerging inside plants across the country, some in a rally in the Shenandoah Valley say they want justice for poultry workers and demand their health and safety are prioritized in their workplace environments.

To follow social distancing guidelines, the car rally began at the Harrisonburg City Hall, making its way to the Rockingham County Administration Building then to George's and Cargill in Dayton.

Michael Snell-Feikema, one of the participants, said their message is to emphasize that essential workers are not disposable.

"We cannot afford to be indifferent to these vulnerable and marginalized workers because COVID-19 spreads to everybody if you let it get out of control, so action needs to happen on this," Snell-Feikema said.

He said poultry plants and the commonwealth of Virginia are not doing enough to protect these essential workers or their families because of lack of social distancing and coronavirus testing.

Snell-Feikema claimed many of these essential workers are concerned about their safety, but do not want to speak out fearing it will cost them their job.

"These problems are happening in meat processing plants across the country and you can see a similar pattern unfolding in each case," Snell-Feikema said.

He said the coronavirus outbreaks in meat plants should show these facilities just how fast the virus can travel in these tight working conditions.

"Any workers that have to work in very close quarters, shoulder-to-shoulder, it is very difficult for the companies to make that safe without adequate testing equipment and regular testing of their workers," Snell-Feikema said.

He said these workers are providing for the community and he'd like to see the state and local government take action to make sure these work environments are following coronavirus guidelines.

On Monday, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam

all across the commonwealth.

The Virginia Poultry Federation released the following statement on Monday:

Poultry plants across Virginia are taking significant and unprecedented steps to protect workers from the COVID-19 pandemic. Protecting the workforce is a high priority, and poultry plants are following CDC guidelines for essential food production facilities and working closely with regional health department districts. The Department of Homeland Security lists the food and agriculture sector, including the poultry industry, as a critical infrastructure workforce. The Centers for Disease Control and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration have issued guidance for prevention and control of COVID-19 for meat and poultry processing plants. Following are some examples of measures plants are taking: • Increasing cleaning, sanitation and fogging frequencies and intensities for equipment and common areas at processing facilities • Increased frequency of hand washing/sanitation for employees • Requiring the use of face masks or face shields • Practicing social distancing not only in common areas, such as break rooms and cafeterias, but also on production lines where possible • Where social distancing is not possible on production lines, companies are installing plastic dividers between workstations and cleaning or replacing the dividers between shifts • Heightened employee screening for any signs of illness, including non-contact temperature checks before entering the plant • Educating employees about the virus and ways to avoid catching it • Each company policy is different, but companies are offering paid sick leave, bonus pay, making paid time off policies more flexible, and other ways to show appreciation for workers In addition to all the measures we are taking in poultry operations, it is critical that everyone practice social distancing and protective measures while not at work. VPF appreciates efforts of localities to ensure compliance with the Governor’s prohibition on social gatherings in violation of the stay at home order. This is a critical component of maintaining heathy workplaces and stopping the spread of COVID-19. VPF thanks the hardworking people employed in the poultry industry for their dedication to producing essential food during this challenging time.