Workers at Kentucky Plant Told They'd Be Fired if They Left Work Even After Tornado Warnings

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

Several workers at the Mayfield Consumer Products plant in Mayfield, Ky. have been telling the media that many workers tried to leave the warehouse after the first tornado sirens went off but were stopped by supervisors who told them they were likely to be fired if they left.


At least eight workers at the plant were killed with eight others still unaccounted for.

McKayla Emery says she overheard managers telling four employees, “if you leave, you’re more than likely to be fired,” according to an account in The Hill.

Heartless capitalist pigs forcing workers to slave away even though a deadly storm approached? Or was it managers following well-established safety protocols?

Some workers left their shifts regardless of repercussions, fearing for their safety, the report said. Other employees congregated in bathrooms and inside hallways even before the tornado hit, with several still asking to go home after the immediate danger had passed, NBC News reported.

MCP Employee Haley Conder said team leaders told her they wouldn’t let workers leave due to safety precautions, adding they sent everyone back to work after mistakenly thinking the tornado was no longer a danger.

“‘You can’t leave. You can’t leave. You have to stay here,’” Conder said. “The situation was bad. Everyone was uncomfortable.”

But the way this story has been framed, you’d think the company’s managers were a bunch of Simon Legrees chaining workers to the factory floor, preventing them from leaving.

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No one knew when or if the tornado would strike. It’s a given that an employee is safer even under the minimum cover of the factory than they would be out in the open. In the building, the employees did the best they could, gaining what little protection there was in bathrooms and inside hallways with no windows.


The managers were not ordering workers to keep working during the storm. They were following CDC guidelines.

  • Go to the basement or an inside room without windows on the lowest floor (bathroom, closet, center hallway).
  • If possible, avoid sheltering in a room with windows.
  • For added protection get under something sturdy (a heavy table or workbench). Cover your body with a blanket, sleeping bag or mattress. Protect your head with anything available.
  • Do not stay in a mobile home.

“If you are outside or in a mobile home, find a nearby building preferably with a basement. If you are in a car, do not try to outrun a tornado but instead find the nearest sturdy building,” according to the CDC. It would have been a violation of safety protocols for managers to have allowed people to leave.

Most people who die during a tornado are killed by flying debris. Keeping people from driving home in a tornado is simply common sense — unless you want to frame the story as evil capitalists deliberately trying to murder helpless workers.

Jamelle Bouie:

With that in mind, to say that most workers are subject to unaccountable “private government” is to make clear the authoritarian character of the American workplace. And it is to remind ourselves that in the absence of any countervailing force, the bosses and managers who wield that authority can force workers into deadly environments and life-threatening situations, or force them to remain in them.

That is what appears to have happened on Friday at the Mayfield Consumer Products factory in Mayfield, Ky. There, more than 100 people, including seven prisoners, were on the night shift, working even after tornado sirens sounded outside the facility. “People had questioned if they could leave or go home,” one employee told NBC News in an interview. But, she said, they were warned: If they left, they were “more than likely to be fired.”


Mr. Bouie is an Easterner, ignorant of what many of us Midwesterners who live with tornados four months out of the year have known all our lives. When the siren sounds or you see a funnel, seek shelter immediately. The workers asking to leave were wrong, and to paint the response of company managers in any other light than an attempt to save lives is nothing more than cynical politics.

The managers had no idea whether a tornado would touch down or when and took the only sensible precaution; stay indoors, hunker down, and pray. But hindsight for pundits like Bouie is a political weapon to be used indiscriminately and thoughtlessly.

The left has been trying to connect tornadoes and global warming by standing on the backs of dead people to make a political point. Bouie thinks he might as well make it a twofer and bash capitalism at the same time.


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