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Employees filed COVID-19 hazard complaints before outbreak at Albany frozen food plant

The latest complaint, filed April 15, says an employee tested positive and had been working for the past two weeks.

ALBANY, Ore. — At least two complaints of coronavirus-related job hazards were reported to the state of Oregon at a frozen food plant that is now the site of a COVID-19 outbreak.

On Friday, officials confirmed at least 8 workers at the National Frozen Foods plant in Albany have been diagnosed with COVID-19, while two others associated with the plant have also tested positive. 

A total of 300 employees work at the plant, and the first case was reported April 13, 2020. 

The plant was shut down Friday, April 24 for cleaning and sanitation, which will continue into the weekend. 

Officials say they've also obtained face shields, hundreds of masks and will increase cleaning throughout the facility after every shift. The plant processes vegetables for some of the largest food suppliers in the country.

“As a company- we’re going to do everything we can for those boots on the ground,” said Steven Schossberger, general counsel and vice president of National Frozen Foods.

Workers file OSHA complaints

According to the Oregon Safety and Health Administration, which has been receiving thousands of workplace coronavirus-related complaints during the past few weeks, at least two complaints have been filed against the National Frozen Foods plant.

"The employer is not following current guidelines for COVID-19 pandemic. Employees in the workplace that have tested positive for COVID-19 are working side-by-side employees not infected," read the complaint filed on March 20, 2020. "Employer has told employees not to use hand sanitizer as needed to prevent exposure to COVID-19."

In response to that complaint, Schossberger told KGW, "The plant manager and HR manager confirmed the plant did not have anyone report a positive for the virus at that time." 

Additionally, Schossberger said the plant "already had hand sanitizer and hand washing in place ... in no way would NFFC discourage their use, especially given current circumstances."

Another complaint was filed April 15, at least a full day after the first employee tested positive for COVID-19.

"The employer has not taken any action to protect the virus from spreading at work. An employee tested positive for COVID-19 on 4/14/2020 and had been at
work for 10 out of the last 14 days. Another employee is suspected of having COVID-19 and was at work last week," the employee wrote. "Employees are not adhering to the social distancing guidelines of 6 feet in common areas and are not able to [do so] on the production line."

OSHA inspectors visited the plant on April 21, and the inspection remains open and ongoing, according to a spokesperson.

There have been severe outbreaks in several meat processing plants across Washington, including Walla Walla and Yakima.

 An investigation by USA Today and the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting found that a rash of coronavirus outbreaks at dozens of meat packing plants across the country is far more extensive than previously thought.

These workers face pressure to keep food on the shelves.

"A lot of workers that people took for granted- whether it be garbage collectors, workers in grocery stores, workers in food processing in farms who people used to take for granted are now being deemed essential," Michael Beranbaum with Teamsters Local Union 670 said.

A bill was introduced this week in Congress that would establish national safety standards to help protect food workers from coronavirus

If you'd like to report your workplace for coronavirus-related violations, visit OSHA's site here.

RELATED: 100 coronavirus cases tied to Tyson meat plant in eastern Washington

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Editors' note: We originally reported 10 workers at the plant were sick with coronavirus, but officials now confirm 8 workers were sick and 2 people "associated with the plant" have coronavirus.

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