Kentucky tornado: Factory workers threatened with firing if they left before tornado, employees say


Category:  News & Politics

Via:  perrie-halpern  •  5 months ago  •  17 comments

By:   Deon J. Hampton

Kentucky tornado: Factory workers threatened with firing if they left before tornado, employees say
heard the warning sirens and wanted to

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T

MAYFIELD, Ky. — As a catastrophic tornado approached this city Friday, employees of a candle factory — which would later be destroyed — heard the warning sirens and wanted to leave the building. But at least five workers said supervisors warned employees that they would be fired if they left their shifts early.

For hours, as word of the coming storm spread, as many as 15 workers beseeched managers to let them take shelter at their own homes, only to have their requests rebuffed, the workers said.

Fearing for their safety, some left during their shifts regardless of the repercussions.

At least eight people died in the Mayfield Consumer Products factory, which makes scented candles. The facility was leveled, and all that is left is rubble. Photos and videos of its widespread mangled remains have become symbols of the enormous destructive power of Friday's tornado system.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday that 74 people were confirmed dead in the state.

McKayla Emery, 21, said in an interview from her hospital bed that workers first asked to leave shortly after tornado sirens sounded outside the factory around 5:30 p.m.

Satellite images show the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory and nearby buildings before, on Jan. 28, 2017, and after, on Saturday.MAXAR Technologies via Reuters

Employees congregated in bathrooms and inside hallways, but the real tornado wouldn't arrive for several more hours. After employees decided that the immediate danger had passed, several began asking to go home, the workers said.

"People had questioned if they could leave or go home," said Emery, who preferred to stay at work and make extra money. Overtime pay was available, but it wasn't clear whether those who stayed were offered additional pay.

Supervisors and team leaders told employees that leaving would probably jeopardize their jobs, the employees said.

"If you leave, you're more than likely to be fired," Emery said she overheard managers tell four workers standing near her who wanted to leave. "I heard that with my own ears."

About 15 people asked to go home during the night shift shortly after the first emergency alarm sounded outside the facility, said another employee, Haley Conder, 29.

There was a three- to four-hour window between the first and second emergency alarms when workers should have been allowed to go home, she said.

Initially, Conder said, team leaders told her they wouldn't let workers leave because of safety precautions, so they kept everyone in the hallways and the bathrooms. Once they mistakenly thought the tornado was no longer a danger, they sent everyone back to work, employees said.

Anyone who wanted to leave should have been allowed to, Conder said.

Elijah Johnson, 20, was working in the back of the building when several employees wanting to head home walked in to speak with supervisors. He joined in on the request.

"I asked to leave and they told me I'd be fired," Johnson said. "Even with the weather like this, you're still going to fire me?" he asked.

"Yes," a manager responded, Johnson told NBC News.

Johnson said managers went so far as to take a roll call in hopes of finding out who had left work.

Company officials denied the allegations.

A rescue worker and a cadaver dog arrive at the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory Saturday in Mayfield, Ky.John Amis / AFP via Getty Images

"It's absolutely untrue," said Bob Ferguson, a spokesman for Mayfield Consumer Products. "We've had a policy in place since Covid began. Employees can leave any time they want to leave and they can come back the next day."

He also denied that managers told employees that leaving their shifts meant risking their jobs. Ferguson said managers and team leaders undergo a series of emergency drills that follow guidelines of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

"Those protocols are in place and were followed," he said.

A 24-hour hotline is available as of Monday for employees to call about hazard pay, grief counseling and other assistance, he said.

Autumn Kirks, a team lead at the factory who was working that night, denied Monday afternoon on MSNBC that people's jobs were threatened if they didn't go in.


'It's just devastating': Kentucky factory survivor loses boyfriend in tornado strike

But another employee, Latavia Halliburton, said she witnessed workers' being threatened with termination if they left.

"Some people asked if they could leave," but managers told them they would be fired if they did, she said.

The first tornado warning passed without any damage, but several hours later, another warning was issued. Once the second tornado siren sounded sometime after 9 p.m. Friday, Conder and a group of others approached three managers asking to go home.

"'You can't leave. You can't leave. You have to stay here,'" Conder said the managers told her. "The situation was bad. Everyone was uncomfortable."

Mark Saxton, 37, a forklift operator, said that he would have preferred to leave but that he wasn't given the option.

"That's the thing. We should have been able to leave," Saxton said. "The first warning came, and they just had us go in the hallway. After the warning, they had us go back to work. They never offered us to go home."

As the storm moved forward after the second siren, the employees took shelter. The lights in the building started to flicker.

Moments later, Emery, who was standing near the candle wax and fragrance room, was struck in the head by a piece of concrete.

"I kid you not, I heard a loud noise and the next thing I know, I was stuck under a cement wall," she said. "I couldn't move anything. I couldn't push anything. I was stuck."


Search for survivors continues after deadly tornadoes across 6 states

Emery, who was trapped for six hours, had several chemical burn marks on her legs, her buttocks and her forehead from the candle wax. She also sustained kidney damage, her urine is black, and she still can't move her legs because of the swelling and from having been motionless for so long.

Employees who wanted to go home early said they were mistreated.

"It hurts, 'cause I feel like we were neglected," Saxton said.


jrDiscussion - desc
Professor Principal
1  sandy-2021492    5 months ago

Shit like this is why some employers are finding it difficult to hire and retain employees. 

Professor Principal
2  Kavika     5 months ago

Unbelievable, I expect to see some massive lawsuits over this kind of crap. I guess a candle is more important than the lives of the worker bees.

Just Jim NC TttH
Masters Principal
3  Just Jim NC TttH    5 months ago

They were probably deemed safer in the factory than at home. There wasn't a single building of ANY kind that I saw standing and they errantly thought the plant would withstand the storm. Alas the dumbasses that run the place were wrong. And in several cases, dead wrong.

Trout Giggles
Professor Principal
3.1  Trout Giggles  replied to  Just Jim NC TttH @3    5 months ago

You probably know this already, while a siren is going off, you are best to stay where you are. Once the siren has finished, management should be looking at weather reports and determine if the threat will continue or stop. If the threat of more storms is imminent, workers should be allowed to go home

Just Jim NC TttH
Masters Principal
3.1.1  Just Jim NC TttH  replied to  Trout Giggles @3.1    5 months ago

Can't disagree with you there. However, in places I have worked, the concrete walls or cinder block construction is going to stand up better than my stick built. By the looks of this debris, that plant was neither.

Trout Giggles
Professor Principal
3.1.2  Trout Giggles  replied to  Just Jim NC TttH @3.1.1    5 months ago

I think that building was all metal

Just Jim NC TttH
Masters Principal
3.1.3  Just Jim NC TttH  replied to  Trout Giggles @3.1.2    5 months ago

And I believe you are correct. And they are just like the sail on a sailboat. Although sturdy enough for most storms, they are no match for tornadoes of that magnitude.

Duck Hawk
Freshman Silent
4  Duck Hawk    5 months ago

I guess you failed to notice that the plant was completely destroyed. everyone knew the plant was not safe but they were required to stay there. They were not allowed get to more secure areas or to check on their families after the first tornado went through. (How the fuck can you not let workers go home to check on their families and property?)

Just Jim NC TttH
Masters Principal
4.1  Just Jim NC TttH  replied to  Duck Hawk @4    5 months ago

Did you miss the word errantly? And again, there wasn't a safe place to go to the way it looks to me. Practically everything was leveled. Oh and there wasn't a first tornado. Just a siren warning of the possibility..

Freshman Silent
4.2  bccrane  replied to  Duck Hawk @4    5 months ago
the plant was completely destroyed. everyone knew the plant was not safe

That's hind sight, no one knew ahead of time that the building would be hit or missed by a mile or miles especially hours before it actually happened.  And there is this thing called a phone that would let people know how their family and properties managed through the first warning and I am certain if there was damage and injuries management would have let them go home. 

Professor Quiet
5  Ed-NavDoc    5 months ago

My heart goes out to all the victims of those  tornadoes. So glad I live in AZ nowhere near the tornado belt.

Trout Giggles
Professor Principal
5.1  Trout Giggles  replied to  Ed-NavDoc @5    5 months ago

Tornadoes can happen any time any where. But you're less likely to experience a tornado than I am

Professor Principal
5.1.1  devangelical  replied to  Trout Giggles @5.1    5 months ago

I went thru 2 in denver in the 80's and I heard that freight train coming both times.

Professor Quiet
5.1.2  Ed-NavDoc  replied to  Trout Giggles @5.1    5 months ago

You are correct about tornadoes in AZ, but they all occur in the Northern part of the state, almost exclusively in the Coconino County area of the White Mountains. I live in Southern Cochise County on the border and there has never been a tornado down here in the recorded history of the area.

Trout Giggles
Professor Principal
5.1.3  Trout Giggles  replied to  devangelical @5.1.1    5 months ago

I'm one of those knuckleheads who runs out on to the porch looking for the funnel cloud. I got complacent living in West Texas and got worse living in Arkansas.

Professor Principal
5.1.4  devangelical  replied to  Trout Giggles @5.1.3    5 months ago

you're only in danger if you're next to a trailer park in the south...

PhD Principal
6  Nerm_L    5 months ago

Here's the part of the story being glossed over:

"For hours, as word of the coming storm spread, as many as 15 workers beseeched managers to let them take shelter at their own homes, only to have their requests rebuffed, the workers said."

Now there are all sorts of important and valid reasons for these workers to want to go home.   As the article points out the workers were sheltered in the factory and not working.  The workers began asking to go home after they thought the immediate danger had passed.  So, shelter ain't the reason for wanting to go home.

My comment isn't to fault the workers or the managers.  I'm pointing a finger at the yellow press trying to create a controversy to make money off the misfortunes of others.  The story is a money maker for the yellow press; death, destruction, devastation, hardship, and a lot of people crying for obvious reasons.  These journalists are trying to create the news just to make a nickel.

The yellow press is telling its own story.  The yellow press isn't telling the story of the workers, managers, or anyone else.  Just to make a nickel.


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