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Employees of food processing plant destroyed by fire now worried about job security

Shearer's Foods employees received a letter hinting at an end to pay and changes to insurance.

HERMISTON, Ore. — Employees of an Eastern Oregon food processing plant decimated by a fire earlier in the week are now full of uncertainty. 

"We're still kind of in shock of what exactly is going on," said Javier Padilla said, an employee at the Shearer's Foods plant in Hermiston. "It feels like we're not being taken care of."

Padilla and his co-workers cannot help but feel that way following a Thursday morning meeting with company leaders. 

Employees received a letter stating they are eligible for a minimum of five weeks pay, at which point Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) benefits kick in. Workers KGW spoke with believe it is only a matter of time before they are out of job.

"They're throwing us out there in the cold," employee Cory Harris said. "They don't want to help us. They want to throw us out there and get rid of us."

RELATED: Explosion reported at food services building in Eastern Oregon

On Tuesday afternoon, flames tore through the Shearer's Foods plant, a plant that accounts for one in 30 jobs in Hermiston. A portable boiler powered by natural gas is to blame for the explosion that sent at least six people to the hospital. Fortunately, they were treated and released, but now they are facing the prospects of unemployment.

"We have a lot of signatures of very upset people," employee Tony Gallegos said.

Workers have started a petition in hopes of saving their jobs and livelihoods in the wake of the devastating fire.

"This job I really did love," Gallegos said. "I loved this job. When I went to work I was happy."

It is the definition of job satisfaction, but it may be short lived if the fire really is the end of the Shearer's Foods plant in Hermiston. If so, there is fear for the hundreds of workers who consider themselves family.

"There are over 400 of us who have to find a job, and we have to basically fight our own family to find this job," Padilla said. "It's limited out here."

RELATED: Workers fear impact of Hermiston food plant explosion

KGW reached out to the company for a comment and received a statement in return:

"Today we communicated in person to all of our team members a compensation continuation plan," the statement read. "We are less than 48 hours into this tragedy, and are still evaluating the full impact of the fire. Wanting to immediately remove short term concerns of the team, we put together our interim plan. The plan includes a minimum of 5 weeks compensation and benefits continuance coverage for all team members. Our immediate focus remains taking care of our people, servicing our customers, securing the site and fully cooperating with local officials regarding the investigation. Over the next week, we will be able to fully evaluate the damage and make decisions as to the short and long term viability of the Hermiston facility. Once those decisions have been made, we will communicate further to our valued team members."

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