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Amy’s Kitchen offers on-site COVID-19 vaccinations for workers

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Employee Paul Russell gets the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccination given by Jazmin Miranda in a tent set up at Amy's Kitchen.
Food factory in White City hit by repeated outbreaks

Amy’s Kitchen is making it easy for workers to get a COVID-19 shot by offering an on-site vaccination clinic at its White City food factory.

The company’s workers have been able to get shots on Thursdays and Fridays for two weeks in a row in a tent set up outside.

About 400 shots have been provided over the two-week span. Amy’s Kitchen has about 900 employees at its White City location, said George Pelch, manager of the plant.

The company may continue the on-site vaccination clinic, and it has also partnered with the La Clinica network of community health centers to help employees get shots, Pelch said.

At least 65 workers have received shots already through La Clinica, he said.

“We wanted to give employees as many options as possible,” Pelch said.

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Lourdes Alvarez escorts Paul Russell and Jennifer Jones into a tent to get the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccination at the Amy's Kitchen in White City.

Headquartered in California, Amy’s Kitchen makes and sells organic vegetarian frozen food that runs the gamut from pizza and burgers to Indian pakoras and pot pies.

Like many other large food-processing plants, the Amy’s Kitchen factory in White City has faced repeated COVID-19 outbreaks. The first outbreak investigation was in July 2020, and the most recent outbreak tied to the factory was in mid-March of this year, according to the Oregon Health Authority.

A total of 146 COVID-19 cases have been linked to the factory. That number includes workers, their household members and other close contacts, OHA data show.

The virus is not being transmitted to customers in the frozen food.

Pelch said Amy’s Kitchen has worked closely with Jackson County Public Health, which helps companies respond to outbreaks. The company has also had COVID-19 safety precautions in place to help protect workers since the early days of the pandemic.

He said those safety measures include temperature and symptom checks for employees, physical distancing where possible, installing barriers between work spaces, expanding break room space with a tent, providing masks and other personal protective gear and temporarily shutting down the production of certain products that required groups of employees to work closely together.

“Our No. 1 priority has been to try and take care of our employees,” Pelch said.

He said Amy’s Kitchen isn’t requiring workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Before offering the on-site vaccination clinic, the company surveyed its workers to see if they wanted to get shots and asked what questions and concerns they had.

Pelch said Amy’s Kitchen is getting factual information to its workers so they can make informed decisions about whether to get vaccinated.

As in many workplaces, there is hesitancy among some to get a COVID-19 shot. As employees see their co-workers get vaccinated, Pelch said some hesitant employees may decide to get vaccinated themselves.

“We think that will ease a lot of people’s concerns,” he said.

With restaurant dining restricted during the pandemic and people seeking out healthful, convenient food, Pelch said Amy’s Kitchen sales have boomed.

“We’ve seen an unprecedented demand for our products during the pandemic,” he said.

Company officials believe the trend of increasing sales is sustainable, even as the pandemic wanes.

Amy’s Kitchen wants to hire 100 more people to work at its White City plant. It raised starting pay across all positions by $2 an hour, and gave raises to current employees, Pelch said.

An entry level worker on the swing shift, for example, can start at $15.75 an hour. The company offers health insurance and retirement benefits, plus free family health care on-site, Pelch said.

With the economy picking up steam, many companies are in a bidding war for entry level workers. Some fast-food restaurants in Medford, for example, are sporting help-wanted signs with offers to pay well above minimum wage, which stands at $12 for the area.

“’There’s plenty of competition. People looking for work have a choice,” Pelch said. “We want Amy’s Kitchen to be one of their top choices.”

He said higher pay will benefit workers as well as the White City and Jackson County economies.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.