Apr 4, 2020 - Health

Workers press companies for protective measures

Illustration of three workers under glass boxes

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Companies are scrambling to reorganize operations and add protections for employees after a surge of public protests by workers who are fearful of contracting the coronavirus on the job.

Why it matters: America is relying on grocery clerks, warehouse personnel and factory workers for food and other necessities. If they get sick, supply chains could break down, further threatening the teetering U.S. economy.

  • One example: A meatpacking plant in Grand Island, Nebraska, is stepping up its sanitizing efforts and taking employees' temperatures as they arrive after 10 workers tested positive for the virus.

Temperature checks are becoming routine at many workplaces, and some are outfitting employees with masks and gloves.

  • Amazon, which has hired 80,000 people in the past few weeks, introduced a raft of new protective measures Thursday in response to employee walkouts and mass absences at some facilities.
  • Walmart, the nation's largest employer, is installing sneeze guards at checkouts and pharmacies to protect store clerks, and it's closing stores overnight for extra cleaning.

Social distancing can be difficult in factories, where employees often work in close quarters.

  • At a GM plant in Kokomo, Indiana, where emergency ventilator production will soon begin, employees will be required to sanitize their hands, check their temperature and wear a mask upon arrival.
  • Individual work stations will be located 6 feet apart, and they'll be cleaned between shifts — a safety measure that cuts into productivity at a time when maximizing output is essential.
  • Each shift will enter and exit through a different door to minimize contact.
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