Local News

ConAgra employees seek information, counseling at Senior Center

Posted June 10, 2009 2:22 p.m. EDT
Updated June 10, 2009 5:19 p.m. EDT

— Local ConAgra Foods employees and their families sought information about the future of the Garner plant at the Senior Center in Garner Wednesday.

The center was being used as an information hub for ConAgra employees to find out information on human resources, counseling and benefits.

Employees will continue to be paid “while this situation is under way,” ConAgra spokeswoman Stephanie Childs said. Officials also said employee medical bills will be taken care of, if they are not covered by their insurance.

One concern employees at the center expressed was for their vehicles, which were still located at the plant. Company officials said those vehicles would be towed to several different locations. Employees will be notified individually of where to pick up their vehicles, Childs said.

“They told us that there were people here that we could talk to if we are having problems…trying to cope,” ConAgra worker David Lyons said Wednesday.

North Carolina Baptist Men volunteers were at the center to assist with counseling.

“We anticipate we may be here several days. The Baptist Men will be here as long as we’re needed,” said Lin Honeycutt, of N.C. Baptist Men.

Tuesday's explosion left dozens injured and three workers dead. The deceased workers were identified Wednesday as Barbara McLean Spears, 43, of Dunn; Rachel Mae Poston-Pulley, 67, of Clayton; and Louis Junior Watson, 33, of Clayton.

ConAgra employee Harold Harris said he worked with Spears and Watson.

“Barbara was a sweet lady,” Harris said. “Lewis – he was so energetic, so full of life.”

Employee Tracy Hinton said she is just happy to be alive. Hinton suffered burns on her head and arm while escaping the plant.

“I crawled my way out the door and…I was burning,” Hinton said.

As far as returning to work, many employees told WRAL News they are concerned. Employees may be receiving their full paychecks, but many workers relied on overtime, Harris said.

"All that's cut. Now just got a regular check and I don't know how some of them will survive off that. You've got single mothers, fathers," Harris said.

ConAgra has a plant in Holly Ridge that makes frozen foods, but officials haven't determined whether Garner employees would be offered jobs there until the local plant can reopen, spokesman Dave Jackson said.

ConAgra officials have set up a fund to help employees and their families who need extra assistance. The company is asking its 25,000 nationwide employees to contribute. ConAgra's corporate office is donating $100,000 to the fund.

Local clergy and community leaders will host a candlelight vigil for ConAgra victims on Friday at 8 p.m. at Wake Baptist Grove, 302 E. Main St. in Garner. The public is invited to attend. People are encouraged to bring their own candles.