Employees of Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. Sumter ended their shifts early after hearing that the plant manager allegedly made a derogatory remark referring to employees.
The employees, who were protesting in front of the chicken production plant on U.S. Highway 15 South Thursday morning, said the plant manager spoke over the radio at an earlier shift that “there are too many roaches walking in the hallway.”
Word was spread to the incoming shift employees Thursday morning, some of whom refused to work.
Some employees said they think the alleged comment was meant to be a racial slur towards black people.
“I got here this morning and saw my people standing out here,” said Mykelle Rose, an employee in the packing department.
Though he did not hear the comment himself, Rose said he has heard the plant manager make similar comments in the past.
“You don’t say things like that,” Rose said. “He’s still in the plant after making a comment like that.”
Rose and two other employees, who were scheduled to be working while they peacefully protested, said they would stay outside of the plant until they felt comfortable to return inside.
Rose said he would return to work if the plant manager showed more respect toward his employees.
"It's not just him," Demetrius Stewart said about the plant manager. "He was just the icing on the cake."
Stewart and some of her co-workers said the alleged comment was just one more thing that made the working situation undesirable. Employees are also not given sufficient break times and do not have enough time to take care of personal issues outside of work such as taking care of sick children, she said.
Stewart said she would like to do a good job at the processing plant but that is difficult to do when supervisors make degrading comments.
"I'm still going to work because I have to eat, but something needs to be done," she said. "Without us, they can't get that place running."
They don't treat us like a No. 1 priority, she said.
When asked if she would consider leaving, Stewart said her job at Pilgrim's Pride works well for her family's schedule.
You have to go to a place where you know they will accommodate your family, and this job accommodates a lot of people's families, she said.
Though she said the job does not leave a lot of time for parents to spend with their children during the day, Stewart is able to take her children to school and have someone watch her children for part of the night instead of the entire night while she's working.
It is not known how many employees walked out, left early or did not report to work because of the situation, nor what actions the plant administration will take in response. About 50 people were protesting outside when The Sumter Item was on scene Thursday morning.
The plant has more than 2,000 full-time positions.
Multiple efforts to contact a spokesperson at Pilgrim’s Pride, and to confirm the name of the plant manager and his status, have not yet been returned.
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