There was a gap of about four hours between the first and second warning bell, but employees were not allowed to go home.
Workers at a candle factory in Kentucky -- which was destroyed by a tornado on December 10, 2021 -- were warned by the supervisors that they would be fired if they left their shifts early to try to make it home to safety. At least five employees at the Mayfield Consumer Products factory revealed that when they wanted to leave the building after hearing the warning sirens, they were told by their supervisors that it would jeopardize their job, according to NBC News.
For hours, as word of the coming storm spread, as many as 15 workers tried to convince their managers to let them take shelter at their own homes, only to have their requests rebuffed, the workers said. Despite the threats, some workers still left the buildings, in the middle of their shifts. When the tornado hit, the entire facility collapsed, leaving eight people dead. 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.
This is beyond horrific.— Robert Reich (@RBReich) December 14, 2021
As a tornado approached, workers at a Kentucky candle factory were reportedly told *they’d be fired* if they left their shifts early.
The factory was leveled. Eight people died.
Corporations will literally let you die to make a buck. Never forget that.
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. Employees ran for shelter in bathrooms and inside hallways, awaiting the tornado that would hit in a few 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 to make some extra money. Overtime pay was available, but it wasn’t clear whether those who stayed were offered additional pay. That's when those who wanted to leave would put their job in jeopardy, added Emery. “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.”
Deaths from a wave of tornadoes are likely to pass 100 in Kentucky alone, says the governor, with over 1,000 homes "gone, just gone."— AJ+ (@ajplus) December 13, 2021
Confirmed deaths in Kentucky and 5 other states are at least 94, including workers who were trapped in a candle factory and Amazon warehouse. pic.twitter.com/D64zzLTDnY
Haley Conder, 29, another employee at the factory said that during the night shift about 15 people asked to go home soon after the first emergency alarm sounded outside the facility. 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. Anyone who wanted to leave should have been allowed to, Conder said.
Mark Saxton, 37, a forklift operator, said that given an option he would have preferred to leave but there wasn't one. They had to go back to work after the first warning and were never offered to go home. As the storm moved forward after the second siren, the employees took shelter. The lights in the building started to flicker.
“Tiles and concrete started falling,” he said per NBC News “Everyone started running, so I just dropped to the ground. I got in a fetal position, and the concrete slab fell on top of me.” Saxton said he was then picked up by the twister and ended up on the building’s collapsed roof. He survived with minor cuts and bruises.
Just 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.”
Emery suffered 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.
Some of the worst destruction from the Kentucky tornado was centered in Mayfield, a town of nearly 10,000 people. At least 110 people were huddled inside a candle factory in the area when a tornado ripped through. https://t.co/1VRJZXLBWw pic.twitter.com/Mh3i3oEzZa— The New York Times (@nytimes) December 11, 2021
A third employee, 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 also joined them and asked to be given permission to go home. “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 revealed, adding that managers even took a roll call to find out who had stayed and who had left work.
Meanwhile, company officials denied the allegations. “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.”
But Saxton said he’s still haunted by the way he was treated by higher-ups. “It hurts, ’cause I feel like we were neglected,” Saxton said.
Cover Image Source: Getty Images | Photo by Scott Olson