A group of factory workers at two separate manufacturing plants are finally home after spending nearly a month working around the clock to make materials for health care personnel amid the COVID-19 crisis.
The 80 workers, who spent 28 days straight in 12-hour shifts at the Braskem America plants in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania, and Neal, West Virginia, unanimously decided at the end of March to eat and sleep at the factories where they make materials for N95 masks and surgical gowns.
"Our team wanted to help where they could and were committed to creating these necessary items for our nation’s pandemic response," Marcus Hook plant manager Stephanie Whitesell said. "We floated the idea and immediately had more volunteers than we needed."
Each facility provided air mattresses, cots and sleeping bags for employees as they turned break rooms and offices into sleeping dormitories. High-speed internet was put in for video calls with loved ones and meals were catered from local restaurants for the workers.
"They made it so easy and were committed to making sure we can make this material that folks need," Neal plant manager Larry Kerrigan said. "It was a collective decision, from the leadership down to our newest hires."
Several employees explained while not ideal, the live-in work felt like the best way to keep their families and co-workers safe from possible COVID-19 exposure.
"We had one guy whose spouse works in a hospital," Kerrigan said. "Being separated isn't easy, but it was best for each of them to be able to do their jobs safely."
The extra precautions at Braskem plants went into effect as the Food and Drug Administration and state governments across the country acknowledged shortages of personal protective equipment in America’s hospitals.
As the largest polyolefins producer in the country, those shortages put pressure on Braskem to keep their production line moving at all costs. If just one plant employee came down with COVID-19, the entire facility would shut down for weeks, putting a hold on the desperately needed material each factory churns out daily.
"We tried to do what was best to minimize and avoid disruption of these critical materials that are so important right now," Whitesell said. "The live-in was an aggressive action that was implemented quickly, but it was entirely necessary and I’m so proud of our team."
Both plant's live-ins have now concluded as the COVID-19 infection rate continues to drop in their regions. Kerrigan revealed the workers are now using a modified schedule to limit interaction with other team members.
"There is a lot of pride in how well the site ran over the last few weeks; they did very well," he added.