2 Tyson chicken factory workers die from COVID-19 in South Georgia, union says

Two workers at the Tyson Foods chicken plant in Camilla recently died after contracting COVID-19, according to their union.

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) announced the deaths in a post criticizing the poultry industry's "delayed COVID-19 response."

The union said the two workers died from the virus and “many are sick or in quarantine.” RWDSU represents 2,000 members at the Mitchell County-based factory.

“What’s happening in Camilla, Georgia, is a clear example of how not to do things,” Edgar Fields, President of the Southeast Council of the RWDSU, said in the post. “It’s too little, too late here, and I hope sharing our story will help stop other communities from being exploited by corporate America.”

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The post also claimed workers are working “elbow to elbow with no access to masks.”

Camilla, located in Mitchell County, is about 30 miles south of Albany, which has been one of the hardest hit epicenters for the coronavirus in Georgia.

Albany is the county seat of Dougherty County, which is second in the state with 1,001 cases and leads Georgia with 62 coronavirus-related deaths, according to the latest Georgia Department of Public Health numbers. Mitchell County also has a dozen deaths and more than 100 cases.

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Tyson spokesman Worth Sparkman provided a statement to AJC.com that said, in part:

“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’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.”

The statement said workers’ temperatures are being taken before they enter Tyson facilities and that they have access to protective face covering, refuting the union’s claim.

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Worth also denied that Tyson was slow to react to the coronavirus, citing a COVID-19 task force that was created in January and the isolation of at-risk employees.

Worth said Tyson has “also stepped up deep cleaning” in 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.”

By the end of February, Worth said Tyson was also limiting business travel and encouraging sick employees to stay home by “relaxing attendance policies.”

He said Tyson could not comment on the two employee deaths or the health of other employees due to “privacy reasons.”

In other news:

The officers are doing this while still responding to emergency calls in Cobb County