BAR S Foods employees slowly returning to work

Wednesday, May 23rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CLINTON, Okla. (AP) _ Thirty of the 380 employees laid off at the Bar-S Foods Co. have returned to work in recent days and as many as 70 should be back on the job by the week's end, officials said Tuesday.

Bar-S voluntarily halted its Clinton operation March 29, after it learned a sample of cooked ham tested positive for listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium that federal reports claim causes an estimated 2,500 serious illnesses and 500 deaths each year.

The layoffs surprised the employees, including Alfonso Borjas.

``I feel kind of excited to be back at work,'' said Borjas, 40. ``I was worried. But now the first group is back, and it's gonna get better and better.''

Chuck Owens, who has worked at the plant for 15 years, said he had no time to prepare for the layoffs.

``The first three days were the toughest for me because I didn't know what was gonna happen,'' Owens said. ``It all happened so sudden.''

Danny Dupree, the company's vice president of operations in Clinton, said residents have been positive.

``The people were very concerned. When you have nearly 400 layoffs in a community of 9,000, that's something that affects everyone in some way,'' Dupree said.

The Clinton Chamber of Commerce and city officials hosted a celebration Monday night to show its appreciation for Bar-S, its workers and their families. About 650 people attended.

``Laying off the people was very tough for me,'' said Ed Appell, plant manager. ``People and families are very near and dear to my heart, and our concern has been to get this place back to full operation and those people back to work as soon as possible.''

More employees are expected to return in the coming weeks. Plans are to have the plant in full operation by the end of June, but much will depend on the company's $3 million renovation project, officials said.

The renovation plans were under way when the work stoppage occurred in March.

Bar-S moved into the Clinton plant in September 1981. Before that, the 40-year-old plant was being used by a meat company that processed turkeys, Dupree said.

``This is an old plant,'' Dupree said. ``The renovations that are taking place now are being done to make this place more sanitary.''

Some Bar-S employees will be able to say they helped rebuild the plant. During their layoff, they worked as hired hands for the construction company.