Pilgrim's Pride workers protest safety of facility as COVID-19 cases rise

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TIMBERVILLE, Va. (WHSV) — Friday morning, more than two dozen workers at Pilgrim's Pride Corp. protested outside the Timberville plant over health and safety concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

One employee said they work shoulder to shoulder throughout the day and is concerned for the safety of her family.

At 7 a.m., the workers were outside the facility on Co-Op Drive chanting and asking for more answers from the plant's managers.

Ann Polk, a protester, told WHSV their supervisors told them that someone had tested positive for COVID-19 in their facility.

"They worked us all day, they didn't tell us, and we didn't know how long that they known," Polk said. "When we left, I guess we heard they quarantined eight people, we want to know who these people are. and if we came into contact with them."

Polk said those eight people who were quarantined were apart of their human resource staff.

She felt although they may not have the virus, they were getting special protection from everyone else.

At this point, the Central Shenandoah Health District has confirmed at least 14 cases in Rockingham County, but the information is not provided on the exact locations of each of those cases.

Polk said she and many others outside the facility said they were concerned for the safety of their families if they brought the virus back to their homes after work.

"We have a coworker with a mom with Lupus, we have coworkers that have infant children, some of us have elderly parents, and we could carry this stuff home to them," Polk said.

She said they are also concerned because many of the workers in the plant do their jobs shoulder to shoulder, against the CDC's recommendation of being at least 6 feet apart. Polk said the only thing they've seen done to protect workers is an increase in the amount of available hand sanitizer.

They're asking for Pilgrim's Pride to close the plant for two weeks to deep-clean and sanitize and give workers the chance to self-isolate.

A little over an hour after the protest started, a Rockingham County Sheriff's deputy asked the group to disband, stating they were on private property.

WHSV reached out to the corporate office of Pilgrim's Pride to confirm if there was a case of COVID-19. A spokesperson sent this statement back:

As a food company providing an essential service during this unprecedented moment, Pilgrim’s Broadway is doing everything we can to keep our team members, workplaces, and products safe. We have enhanced safety measures, health protocols and worker benefits; increased sanitation and disinfection efforts; implemented health screening and temperature testing; and promoted physical distancing where possible by increasing spacing in cafeterias, break rooms and locker rooms, and putting up five tents to encourage people to eat outside.

We recognize that many people feel anxious as we all face the coronavirus challenge together. We are a proud member of the Broadway community and we will continue to work hard to support our team members and our resilient community through this uncertain time.

The Pilgrim's Pride spokesperson told WHSV that he could not release information on whether someone at the Timberville facility had tested positive for COVID-19, but confirmed that the company has had team members test positive in facilities across the U.S.

However, the company cannot identify exactly where those cases were confirmed.

This is an ongoing story and we'll update you as we learn more. Stay with WHSV for the latest.