An article in the New York Times on April 22 noted that “outbreaks [of Covid-19] are mounting in processing plants and factories in Midwestern towns.” (Source)
We have been representing injured workers from these plants, factories and towns for over 50 years. We have seen ancient machines that were built without thought of the safety of the workers who operated those machines give way to more modern machines that may create an incrementally safer workplace but have automated away many of the jobs the grandparents and parents of today’s workers used to hold. We have seen jobs that were brutal and repetitive become modified to allow rotation so workers do not do exactly the same thing for their entire shift.
This is part of the cycle of manufacturing. When things are new they are engineered for profit and efficiency. After many workers suffer and many dollars are paid in claims the companies re engineer and try to come up with processes that are safer for union workers and less costly for the executives and insurance companies.
We are now faced with a new issue. Work stations and processes that may have been designed for workers to share space, to work close to one another are now dangerous. Whether the workers are building automobiles, assembling parts or processing livestock they are now dangerous to each other. Some employers have created new systems to allow social distancing to succeed in their plants and others have pretty much told their employees to put on a mask and gloves, to shut up and work in the same way they have always worked.
We have seen this in the small businesses in our cities and towns as well. One restaurant has customers picking up orders in the parking lot with the passenger window rolled down and the food dropped on the seat by an employee with gloves and a mask. The order was paid by telephone and there is no human contact. Another big box store foolishly has the customer walk through the entire store to pick up an online order in an area where a half dozen workers are operating equipment putting the employees and customer at risk for the virus and for being hit by a forklift.
Employers who are still operating need to rethink their methods to protect their workers. In a factory setting this has to be more than the plant manager brainstorming at dinner one night but requires input from engineers and doctors. It may also mean spending some money. Otherwise, the virus can run rampant through that plant infecting workers and their families and forcing the plant to shut down.
Protecting workers against Covid-19 protects the entire community. Most of the nation has been staying at home for over a month. There has been more than adequate time for employers to find ways to keep their doors open, keep men and women working, keep products flowing into the economy and keep everybody safe.
We stand in solidarity with the essential union workers who are still earning a paycheck but who are nervously putting on a mask and driving to work each day. We stand in solidarity with the leadership of those unions who are always explaining to the suits that they have a better idea that will help the membership and the company. Their voices are vital in finding safe ways to work. We also stand in solidarity with the union workers who are coping with unemployment and waiting to get back to the assembly line to see their brothers and sisters and to earn a living when it is safe to do so. If you are an essential worker who has contracted Covid-19 or who is concerned about the virus, you can contact our office to talk about your plant and your condition. We are working, some at home and some at the office, to serve you.
Katz Friedman is currently investigating Covid-19 cases. We represent many injured employees in work accident cases against their employers and will continue to investigate claims being made by factory workers regardless of whether it takes place from lifting, slipping, falling, or contracting COVID-19. When making decisions regarding a work injury, it is wise to consult an attorney to protect your interests because it is clear that the employers already have their lawyers working on this issue to defeat your claim. If you or someone you know works in the manufacturing industry and suffers from COVID-19, the attorneys and staff of Katz Friedman are here to help with obtaining proper compensation.