A factory where eight people died and was destroyed during a catastrophic tornado strike last week in Kentucky told their workers if they leave early amid storm warnings, they would be fired, according to statements given by staff to the media.
A Dec. 3 article by CNBC that interviewed staff of the now-ruined Mayfield Consumer Products (MCP), a business reported to produce scented candles, stated “as many as 15 workers beseeched managers to let them take shelter at their own homes, only to have their requests rebuffed.”
CNBC interviewed an employee of the company, a 21-year-old woman, from her hospital bed, who was paraphrased as saying staff first tried to leave when tornado sirens went off at 5:30 p.m.
The first set of sirens turned out to be a false alarm as staff hid in bathrooms and hallways, “After employees decided that the immediate danger had passed, several began asking to go home, the workers said.”
The woman told CNBC she heard managers tell other staffers, “If you leave, you’re more than likely to be fired.”
“I heard that with my own ears,” she said.
According to the article, as the tornado struck the building during the second set of sirens, she was near the wax and fragrance room and was suddenly hit in the head by a piece of falling concrete and pinned under a fallen wall.
CNBC said she was trapped for six hours, describing her injuries as, “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 and from having been motionless for so long.”
Another 29-year-old female employee clarified to the outlet that there was a three or four hour gap between the first set of sirens and when the real tornado struck, and it was the night shift that had been asking to leave with disaster pending.
The woman said that managers did not want to let staff leave during the first set of sirens for safety reasons and instructed them to hide in the bathrooms and hallways.
But after the first warning turned out to be a false alarm, everyone was sent back to work.
She said that when the second set of sirens went off around 9:00 p.m., she and a group of other employees approached managers asking to leave, but were told “You can’t leave. You can’t leave. You have to stay here.”
Another 20-year-old male employee told CNBC, “I asked to leave and they told me I’d be fired.”
“Even with the weather like this, you’re still going to fire me?” he asked, adding that the answer from his boss was an unequivocal “Yes.”
The young man said managers even took a roll call in order to confirm who had left without authorization.
A spokesperson for the company characterized the claims as “absolutely untrue.”
“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,” he said.
While one female team lead employed at the factory also told CNBC the reports were untrue, a fourth employee further told the outlet she overheard managers telling people who were trying to leave that they would be terminated if they did so.
A fifth staffer, a forklift driver, said, “That’s the thing. We should have been able to leave…The first warning came, and they just had us go in the hallway. After the warning, they had us go back to work. They never offered us to go home.”
According to a Dec. 12 report by USA Today affiliate Courier Journal, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear described during a press conference the candle factory disaster as, “It’s heavy machinery…it’s the building that’s flattened. It’s cars from the parking lot that is on top of it. It’s huge metal drums, even ones with corrosive chemicals that were inside. It’s…pretty awful to witness.”
The report said there were approximately 110 people inside the facility when the tornado struck.
Beshear was further paraphrased as stating, “Of the 110 workers who were believed to be at the factory when the tornado hit, there have been only 40 rescues of workers by first responders.”
MCP’s spokesperson told the Journal, however, that all 110 employees had been accounted for with only eight fatalities.
Beshear was quoted by the outlet as saying in response, “The company right now says it has different information but until we can verify it, we’re still where we were (Saturday).”