‘Absolutely horrific’: Candle factory bosses threatened firings if workers left ahead of tornado

Economist and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich called the revelations from the new reporting "beyond horrific."

Multiple employees of the Mayfield, Kentucky, candle factory that was leveled by a devastating tornado late Friday said that supervisors threatened firings if  workers left their shifts early amid warnings of the impending storm, according to new reporting by NBC News.

Sharing the new reporting, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) called the revelations “absolutely horrific.”

“Workers may have lost their lives in Kentucky because the company refused to let them take shelter,” Brown tweeted. “Corporations putting profit over people’s lives should not be happening in America in 2021.”

The exclusive story came amid ongoing recovery efforts in multiple states after a catastrophic series of tornadoes ripped through sections of the South and Midwest late Friday into Saturday. The severe weather is blamed for 88 deaths so far, 74 of which were in Kentucky—through which a quad-state tornado tore a potentially historic path of destruction at least 220 miles long.

The Kentucky National Guard said late Monday that all of the workers at the Mayfield Consumer Products factory—which had been going “24/7” to meet demand—had been accounted for. There were eight deaths, far fewer than what was originally feared.

NBC News reported that “at least five workers said supervisors warned employees that they would be fired if they left their shifts early.” From the report: “If you leave, you’re more than likely to be fired,” [McKayla] Emery said she overheard managers tell four workers standing near her who wanted to leave. “I heard that with my own ears.”

Another employee, 20-year-old Elijah Johnson, joined other workers in approaching supervisors to request to leave their shifts.

“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.

The company denied the allegations to NBC News.

“This is beyond horrific,” tweeted economist and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich.

“Corporations will literally let you die to make a buck,” he said. “Never forget that.”

The company has asserted there are regular storm drills to prepare for disasters.

“We haven’t had one since we’ve been there,” 20-year-old Jarred Holmes, who has worked at the factory for months with his fiancée, Bryanna Travis, told The Associated Press.

AP‘s Monday reporting also included comments from Kathy LaVanier, CEO of Ohio-based Renegade Candle Company. She’s also a board member at the National Candle Association.

“LaVanier said regular disaster drills are important at candle plants, especially to include temporary workers who might have just arrived to fill a demand surge. But the way they are built—rarely with basements, and structured to accommodate long manufacturing lines—makes it hard to avoid damage when a truly devastating storm hits.”

“If we had enough advance notice and felt it was severe enough,” said LaVanier, “you might send people home.”

As the Louisville Courier Journal noted, the National Weather Service in Paducah sent out multiple alerts hours before the storm hit.

“No graphics with this post. Just straight from the office,” NWSPaducah tweeted at around 11:20 am Friday. “From late afternoon on through tonight, be ready.”

“This could be a significant severe event with a strong tornado or two across our region,” the service said. “Think about what you would do now. Better to err on the safe side.”

Yale Climate Connections also reported that “the quad-state event was extremely well predicted,” with public warnings going back to the day before the storms ultimately hit.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Andrea Germanos is senior editor and a staff writer for Common Dreams, where this was originally published. Email: andrea@commondreams.org.

Comments are closed.