DANVILLE, Ill. (WCIA) — Viscofan USA management has issued a public statement detailing how they responded to their manufacturing plant’s exposure to COVID-19.
In an April 2 press release, a Viscofan representative said “good health was a priority for all of us,” and “Viscofan is even more committed to providing a healthy working environment.”
“Viscofan is experienced at dealing with this crisis at its’ other worldwide plants, such as our plant in China,” the release added. “Utilizing our international know-how, we have implemented strict protocols to mitigate potential risks.”
WCIA contacted Viscofan management Friday requesting further details on those mitigation protocols.
“It is important to understand, that some of the procedures are mandated by the company, while others are highly recommended,” a Viscofan representative said Monday.
Their clarified mitigation protocols included the following:
- Frequent handwashing was ‘recommended’ to employees but was ‘mandatory’ at the beginning of a work shift and every time an employee leaves their work station.
- Maintaining social distance of at least two meters was ‘recommended’ to employees.
- Avoid groups of ten or more was ‘mandatory’ for employees.
- Cleaning high touch areas at work stations between shifts with disinfectant provided at every work station was ‘mandatory’ for employees.
- The use of protective masks was ‘mandatory’ for employees.
- Employees were previously ‘recommended’ to check their temperature at home before entering the plant. As of April 1, it was ‘mandatory.’
The Viscofan representative said they continue to evaluate and implement additional procedures.
“While unfortunately we had an employee test positive for COVID-19 we took immediate action to identify other employees who may have had exposure. As a result, two employees were sent home with pay to quarantine.”
“Our employees have been given the option to stay at home if that is the right choice for them,” the representative said. “We have allowed the option to use eligible vacation time for this period, and not accumulate attendance points.”
“Our employees are demonstrating social responsibility in these challenging, unprecedented times. Where possible, we have recommend our employees work from home. None-the-less, many are coming to work, following the safety precautions thereby allowing basic food to be provided to millions of households across the country. We are working together to defeat this challenging situation.”
Viscofan announced Friday their donation of 500 face masks to OSF Sacred Heart Medical Center. Company leaders said at the time it was a “humble contribution” of additional masks they had secured.
Viscofan produces casings that are used by the food industry, and they have a staff of about 350 at their Danville location. They also have manufacturing facilities in Montgomery, Alabama and Kentland, Indiana.
On April 1, WCIA reported Viscofan employees were upset that they had to use vacation time or take unpaid time off if they called in sick or needed to stay home to care for children that are out of school.
Viscofan workers also said they cannot socially distance themselves from each other at times, such as when they’re training new hires or the machines get too busy. Tim Miller, President of the United Commercial Food Workers Union 686, said their union board approached the company in a labor-management meeting on March 24th, to propose shutting down some of the machines.
“Reducing the production will not offer any safety improvement on the measures that we have adopted,” the Viscofan representative said in an emailed statement Wednesday. “All protocols implemented, following the guidance of the CDC, (World Health Organization) and our International Covid19 Committee, are enough to maintain established social distance guidelines.
“Keep in mind that we are considered an essential business in the food supply chain. We therefore have an important responsibility to produce at the level required by our customers to meet global food needs.”
According to the Center for Disease Control webpage on guidelines for essential workplaces exposed to COVID-19, they recommended that employees “maintain six feet and practice social distancing as work duties permit in the workplace.”
Miller said Thursday he knows Viscofan is running a business, “but the other employees see this company as uncaring towards them. Shutting down machines would seem like a show of their concern for the employees but it didn’t happen.”
“Over this past weekend, we had several machines fall down,” Miller said. “By that I mean they stopped running due to problems. That meant the employees were operating close to each other. It couldn’t be helped.”
Viscofan employee Mario Valdez said “people are refusing to train” new employees because they cannot social distance themselves for that. He also said employees are being told to reuse their masks for three days.
“Some of us, we purchased our own masks,” he said.
Their workers have also expressed dissatisfaction with how the company’s productivity bonus was determined. Viscofan provided the following response:
“The productivity bonus including the criteria which determines the amount of the payout, were negotiated into our 2019 labor agreement and have not changed. The only change is that the company temporarily doubled the payout opportunity from $200 to $400 per month during this pandemic. Additionally, we have implemented an attendance bonus that pays out $150 for good attendance.”