A North Carolina Salon Reopened, But Poultry Workers Aren't Welcome Yet Due To COVID-19

The hair salon says too many employees at the local Tyson plant have been infected with the coronavirus.

The hair salon SmartCuts reopened its doors in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, on Memorial Day weekend after a long closure due to the coronavirus.

But not every customer was welcome to hop in a chair like old times.

A sign posted on the shop window explained: “Due to the number of Tyson employees who have tested positive for Covid19, and given the close contact experienced during our services, we are unable to serve Tyson employees. We sincerely apologize for this decision, and we ask for your understanding.”

The local Tyson poultry processing plant is one of the largest employers in the area. Like other poultry, beef and pork facilities around the country, it has become a hotbed for the coronavirus ― with 570 workers recently testing positive out of around 2,200.

When a friend of hers sent Amy McGinty a photo of the SmartCuts sign, she was outraged. The 13-year Tyson employee said people look at her and her colleagues “like a disease.”

“They’re getting our food, but they won’t service us,” McGinty told HuffPost.

She said it was another indication of how poultry workers have been ostracized while they take on great risk to provide Americans with food during the pandemic.

“Even people I knew as friends, I can tell they don’t want to be around me,” she said.

A manager at SmartCuts confirmed the policy to HuffPost, saying it was a difficult decision but the salon’s owners believed it was in the interest of public health. The location is part of a chain with 12 salons in North Carolina and Tennessee.

A photo of the sign in the window of SmartCuts in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.
A photo of the sign in the window of SmartCuts in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.

“We respect their business, and we really appreciate that they’re essential workers,” said the manager, Cathy, of the poultry plant employees. “But that puts them at risk.”

Cathy, who declined to give her last name, said the salon plans to allow Tyson employees back as of June 8, and they will be eligible to receive a $3 discount off the price of their haircuts.

Hair salons were allowed to open their doors again in North Carolina this weekend if they adhered to rules on reduced capacity, as part of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s phased reopening plan.

Photos of the SmartCuts sign made the rounds among Wilkesboro residents on Facebook on Sunday and Monday, with a number of Tyson workers expressing anger over the salon’s decision. Cathy noted that the plant’s workforce constitutes a large share of the salon’s clientele.

She said SmartCuts received “a lot of negative feedback” over the decision, but the owners are standing by the policy.

“We don’t want to turn down business. We’re trying to keep the general population safe and asking them [Tyson employees] to do the self-quarantine thing, where they’re not coming into contact with other people,” she said.

Workers at the Wilkesboro plant are not represented by a union, but the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1208, which represents meatpacking workers elsewhere in the state, said poultry workers should not be “shunned” for doing their jobs.

“North Carolina meatpacking workers are putting their lives on the line every day to make sure our families have the food they need during the coronavirus outbreak,” the union said in a statement to HuffPost. “It is shocking and deeply offensive that certain businesses would want to refuse service to the people we’re all depending on in this crisis.”

McGinty said workers like her have received “nothing but shame” for their efforts on the front lines of the pandemic. Because she works at the plant, McGinty said, it has been hard to find anyone to watch her 2-year-old ― other than her mother, who has a heart condition. When she recently took her daughter to the doctor, the first question the doctor asked was whether the child had been exposed to any Tyson employees.

She said she doesn’t get her hair cut at SmartCuts, but she should be able to if she wants.

“We are people. We are humans,” she said.

This post has been updated with a statement from UFCW Local 1208.

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