National Frozen Foods still facing questions amid closure

The plant announced it would temporarily shut down after eight employees tested positive for COVID-19.

Posted: May 5, 2020 4:35 PM
Updated: May 6, 2020 7:01 PM

ALBANY, Ore. -- The Albany plant of National Frozen Foods remains, for the most part, closed after the company announced a temporary shutdown of the facility.

This comes after eight employees and two people associated with the employees tested positive for coronavirus.

A source told KEZI 9 News that a testing site was set up at the Linn County Fairgrounds and Expo Center and that employees were encouraged to go get tested.

Since the initial release of those eight positive tests, Linn County Public Health has not released any updated figures. Health officials told KEZI that a statement may be ready by Wednesday, May 6.

Local Teamsters lead Michael Berenbaum, whose local represents 270 workers at National Frozen Foods, understands the impulse to keep numbers quiet so as not to induce a panic but would like to see more. 

"There needs to be transparency but I understand their position," said Berenbaum. "They're trying to avoid people running around saying this is the next Smithfield Foods or the next Tyson Foods. This is not that."

Both Smithfield and Tyson Foods have reported coronavirus outbreaks at numerous plants across the country. The Albany plant of National Frozen Foods was shut down over the weekend for a deep clean of the facility under the supervision of Linn County Public Health. Employees have protective equipment such as face shields and gloves that are a part of the day-to-day work on the production lines already.

But a source told KEZI 9 News that the plant was too slow to act when the initial two cases, internally reported some time before the shutdown date, first came about. This week, a training video was shown to employees touting new safety measures and the implementation of social distancing in certain parts of the facility, but not everyone is returning to work just yet. 

A looming issue, one of pay for employees that aren't working, remains. A source told KEZI that those not yet back to work are being told to use their paid time off or file for unemployment. The company, the source said, is not paying for those who are not working at the facility. 

A representative for the Albany facility declined to comment and referred KEZI to the National Frozen Foods general counsel, who has not yet returned a request for comment. 

In the meantime, Berenbaum and his union are concerned with keeping people safe when they do return to work at the facility. 

"Hopefully this thing is caught early and resolved and as soon as everybody's test results come back and they come back to work, we hopefully won't have another case," Berenbaum said.

Berenbaum also mentioned that these plant employees, deemed essential workers because of their vital role in keeping food supply chains sustained, need to be protected after the pandemic ends as well. 

"These workers who in the past nobody's even thought twice about are now essential workers that everyone depends on. Hopefully everyone remembers that when this is all over with," Berenbaum said.

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