AP

Despite risks, auto workers step up to make medical gear

Apr 24, 2020, 6:01 AM
This photo provided by Cindy Parkhurst. shows Cindy Parkhurst working at the Ford Flat Rock Assembl...
This photo provided by Cindy Parkhurst. shows Cindy Parkhurst working at the Ford Flat Rock Assembly Plant in Flat Rock, Mich. Like hundreds of workers at Ford, General Motors, Toyota and other companies, Parkhurst has gone back to work to make face shields, surgical masks and even ventilators in a wartime-like effort to stem shortages of protective gear and equipment during the coronavirus pandemic.(Cindy Parkhurst via AP)
(Cindy Parkhurst via AP)

DETROIT (AP) — Cindy Parkhurst could have stayed home collecting most of her pay while the Ford plant where she normally works remains closed due to coronavirus fears.

Instead, she along with hundreds of workers at Ford, General Motors, Toyota and other companies has gone back to work to make face shields, surgical masks and ventilators in a wartime-like effort to stem shortages of protective gear and equipment.

“I didn’t give it a second thought,” said Parkhurst, 55, a tow motor driver who is now helping Ford and its partner 3M manufacture and ship respirators. “It’s a neat thing to do for the community, for the first responders who definitely need this kind of protective gear.”

All over the country, blue-collar and salaried workers have raised their hands to make medical equipment as companies repurpose factories to answer calls for help from beleaguered nurses, doctors and paramedics who are treating patients with the highly contagious virus. Workers also are making soap and hand sanitizer, which early in the crisis were in short supply.

At Ford, over 800 people returned to work at four Detroit-area sites. General Motors, which President Donald Trump had alternately criticized and praised for its work, has about 400 at a now-closed transmission plant in suburban Detroit and an electronics factory in Kokomo, Indiana, working on shields and ventilators. About 60 Toyota workers, both salaried and blue-collar, are making protective equipment in Kentucky, Texas, Michigan and Alabama.

Most automakers in the U.S. temporarily stopped making vehicles about a month ago after workers complained about the risks of infection at the factories. Many white-collar workers are being paid to work remotely but members of the United Auto Workers who don’t have that option are still collecting pay and unemployment benefits that equal about 95% of regular take-home wages.

Those workers making medical gear will get their full base pay, but that’s not what’s motivating them to keep coming to the factories. Many simply want to help.

Jody Barrowman has been making face masks at a repurposed former General Motors transmission factory near Detroit since early April.

“Instead of being home and not helpful, I thought I’d be productive here,” she said.

She jumped at the chance to work because GM is donating the masks to hospitals and first responders “which is where it needs to go,” she said.

Barrowman said that the operation has been so efficient that workers have been allowed to take masks home for family members.

“I dropped some off at my grandparents. My parents took a full packet of masks at my house. So, it’s not just helping the first responders. It’s helping me and my family feel safe,” she said.

Inside a building on Toyota’s giant factory complex in Georgetown, Kentucky, mechanical engineer Kirk Barber helps to ship thousands of face shields that workers are making while plants are shut down. Sometimes he personally delivers boxes to hospitals or the state government, which is distributing them.

All of the workers, he said, had to undergo a cultural change to make sure they stay more than 6 feet apart to protect themselves from possible contagion.

“It’s a hard habit to break when you’re typically up and talking to someone, pointing to a document,” Barber said. “People are very quick to point out ‘hey, you guys need to keep your distance.’”

Twenty-four UAW members have already died from COVID-19 but it’s unclear when or where they contracted the disease. Ford, GM and Toyota said they aren’t aware of any infections among workers who returned to make medical gear. Still, there’s no denying the risks are likely higher at the factories than in the safety of one’s home.

Joseph Holt, associate professor at Notre Dame’s business school who specializes in ethics and leadership, said the workers and their companies are examples of business doing its best to quickly fill a critical unmet need.

“Courage is doing what you think is right even when it might cost you,” Holt said. “Those workers being willing to go in to work to produce the medical equipment and personal protective gear, even at personal risk — that is moral courage in action.”

The Detroit automakers are trying to restart production on their vehicles, perhaps as soon as early May, but both Ford and GM say medical gear production will continue. Ford says it has enough workers to do both while GM says it won’t need all factory workers right away because it plans a gradual restart.

Back at the Ford complex in Flat Rock, Michigan, where Parkhurst works, she’s hoping the respirators she’s helping to ship make their way to the hospital in nearby Dearborn, where nurses treated her mother with compassion before she died of a stroke about a year ago. She knows they must be “going through hell” now because the Detroit area one of the national hotspots for the virus.

“When I compared that to taking maybe a small risk and going in and making respirators, I feel all right,” she said.

____

AP Video Journalist Mike Householder contributed to this report from Warren, Michigan. This story has been corrected to show that Cindy Parkhurt’s mother died about one year ago, not 15 years ago.

Today’s Top Stories

AP

DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 25: A giant flag of IR Iran on the pitch prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2...
ALI ABDUL-HASSAN and ABBY SEWELL Associated Press

US-Iran match reflects a regional rivalry for many Arab fans

The U.S. team’s must-win World Cup match against Iran will be closely watched across the Middle East, where the two nations have been engaged in a cold war for over four decades and where many blame one or both for the region’s woes.
5 days ago
Irene Cara in 'Fame' (Photo courtesy of Mgm/Kobal, Shutterstock)...
MARK KENNEDY, AP Entertainment Writer

‘Fame’ and ‘Flashdance’ singer-actor Irene Cara dies at 63

singer-actress Irene Cara, who starred and sang the title cut from the 1980 hit movie “Fame” and then belted out the era-defining hit “Flashdance ... What a Feeling” from 1983's “Flashdance,” has died. She was 63.
7 days ago
The U.S. Coast Guard ship Bernard C. Webber, leaves the coast guard base, Monday, July 19, 2021, in...
Associated Press

‘Miracle’: Missing cruise ship passenger found OK in water

The U.S. Coast Guard says a passenger who went overboard from a cruise ship in the Gulf of Mexico was rescued on Thanksgiving after likely being in the water for hours.
8 days ago
FILE - A Montana man was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in the Capitol riot. (AP P...
The Associated Press

Montana man gets 3 years in prison for role in Capitol riot

A Montana man will spend three years in federal prison for his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S Capitol.
9 days ago
Debbie, left, and Chet Barnett place flowers at a memorial outside of the Chesapeake, Va., Walmart ...
The Associated Press

Walmart shooter left ‘death note,’ bought gun day of killing

According to authorities in Virginia, the Walmart shooter bought his gun just hours prior to killing six employees.
9 days ago
Dry lakebed...
Kira Hoffelmeyer

Lawsuit looms over tiny fish in drought-stricken West

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Conservationists have notified U.S. wildlife officials that they will sue over delayed decisions related to protections for two rare fish species that are threatened by groundwater pumping in the drought-stricken West. The Center for Biological Diversity sent a formal notice of intent to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service last week […]
11 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...
Macey's

5 game day snacks for the whole family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...
Sorenson

The best tools for Deaf and hard-of-hearing workplace success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...
Macey's

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
christmas decorations candles in glass jars with fir on a old wooden table...
Western Nut Company

12 Mason Jar Gift Ideas for the 12 Days of Christmas [with recipes!]

There are so many clever mason jar gift ideas to give something thoughtful to your neighbors or friends. Read our 12 ideas to make your own!
wide shot of Bear Lake with a person on a stand up paddle board...

Pack your bags! Extended stays at Bear Lake await you

Work from here! Read our tips to prepare for your extended stay, whether at Bear Lake or somewhere else nearby.
young boy with hearing aid...
Sorenson

Accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing

These different types of accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing can help them succeed in school.
Despite risks, auto workers step up to make medical gear