Kentucky tornado survivors left jobless, unable to work

“I was scheduled to work this week, but that has been put on hold,” Kyanna Parsons-Perez told theGrio.

Kyanna Parsons-Perez isn’t sure what comes next for her and her four children now that a tornado has destroyed the Mayfield, Kentucky candle factory where she worked, leaving eight of her coworkers dead and those who survived without a way to earn a paycheck.

“I was scheduled to work this week, but that has been put on hold,” Parsons-Perez told theGrio during a Monday night phone interview. “[Management] said because of what happened they weren’t going to be open this week. I was like, ‘There ain’t no building to go to. What you mean? I never thought y’all were going to be open anyway.’”

Kyanna Parsons-Perez was a temporary employee who was working at the candle factory in Mayfield, Kentucky, when it was destroyed by a tornado on Dec. 10, 2021. (Credit: Kyanna Parsons-Perez)

Technically, Parsons-Perez is a temporary employee paid by the hour and assigned to work at the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory by a staffing agency called Temps Plus. She’s also one of the estimated 110 workers who were at the factory Friday night when a tornado leveled the place and, she suspects, destroyed her van.

Disaster relief crews wouldn’t let Parsons-Perez access the factory parking lot when she returned to the site earlier this week, but aerial view photos taken after the tornado showed many vehicles piled up in the rubble.

“When I saw pictures, it looked like somebody had emptied out a bag of Hot Wheels,” Parsons-Perez said. “I can’t even really look for another job without a car.”

Crews clear the rubble at the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory after it was destroyed by a tornado three days prior, on December 13, 2021 in Mayfield, Ky. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Truck driver Jessie Fitts wondered the same thing on Wednesday after he said the tornado destroyed his Cadillac. The 44-year-old father of seven works for Wicks Logistics, a freight shipping and trucking company that hauls products for the candle factory.

Fitts told theGrio he retreated to a company van Friday night after locking down 18-wheelers in the factory parking lot to ensure they weren’t blown away by the storm. That’s when he said the tornado started to move his vehicle.

“The passenger side window made a noise so I cracked it [open] and it just shattered,” Fitts said. “I tried to [drive] behind the candle factory to stop the wind from pushing the van. About the time I got to the rear of the factory, the tornado threw the van.”

Fitts said he dug his hands into the driver’s seat and held on for dear life as the van tumbled in the air before landing on the factory’s remains.

“When it stopped I didn’t know where I was,” he said. “I thought the building fell down on me. When I looked out, I saw I was on top of where the building was. I couldn’t believe it.”

Wicks Logistics truck driver Jessie Fitts says the white van in this photo was the one he was sitting in when a tornado hit the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory on Dec. 11, 2021. (Credit: Facebook)

Fitts said he hurt his shoulder and received a large cut under his right arm during the storm. He said he is still waiting to be evaluated by doctors. Despite his injuries, he said he considered going into work this week since he too gets paid by the hour.

“They gave me an option to go back,” Fitts said of his bosses at Wicks, “but mentally, physically, I’m not able. He gave me another option where I can file workers comp. or unemployment.”

Fitts and Parsons-Perez are just two of the temporary or contract employees who worked at the Mayfield candle factory and aren’t sure if they’re eligible for disaster relief funds the company is scheduled to distribute.

“They said the [Mayfield] employees should have theirs by the end of business today,” Parsons-Perez said Wednesday. “They were coordinating with the temp agency to try to figure out how to get us our funds as well.”

Temps Plus CEO John Anderson hasn’t responded to requests for comment from theGrio. Parsons-Perez said the company called to check on her and the other Mayfield temps Saturday and Monday. She visited the company’s office in Paducah, Kentucky on Tuesday.

“They were kind of checking in on me and getting us ready for what’s next as far as possibly dealing with worker’s comp. and figuring things out,” she said. “They took my statement and I’m supposed to get back in contact with them.”

Several Mayfield candle factory workers told NBC News earlier this week that their managers told some employees they would probably lose their jobs if they left work early to avoid the coming storm after nearby tornado sirens went off Friday night.

Wicks Logistics truck driver Jessie Fitts was working at the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory in Mayfield, Ky., on December 11, 2021 when it was hit by a tornado. (Credit: Jessie Fitts)

“I asked to leave and they told me I’d be fired,” Mayfield factory worker Elijah Johnson told NBC News.

But Parsons-Perez said no one threatened to fire her or anyone else in her presence that night.

“Nobody never said that to me and I haven’t heard nobody talking about it either,” she said.

Mayfield Consumer Products hasn’t returned theGrio’s calls for comment on how the company is helping temp workers and contractors who were impacted by the storm. The company’s spokesperson Bob Ferguson told NBC News that management did not threaten to fire anyone on Friday.

“It’s absolutely untrue,” Ferguson told the news network. “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.”

Parsons-Perez said her ordeal has taught her a valuable lesson about what’s most important in life.

“Don’t get so caught up in your job where you’re missing out on life because just like that, your life can be cut short and these jobs will keep going,” she said.

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The post Kentucky tornado survivors left jobless, unable to work appeared first on TheGrio.

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