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Companies find a new purpose: Workplace rules have changed


March 31, 2020
By The Associated Press

Topics
Photo: Walmart Canada

The outbreak of the coronavirus has dealt a shock to the global economy with unprecedented speed. Following are developments on Tuesday related to the global economy, the work place and the spread of the virus compiled by the Associated Press in the United States.

Industry

Less than a week after saying it planned to reopen five North American assembly plants, Ford has decided that those facilities will remain closed indefinitely.

The announcement to reopen got a cool reception from the United Auto Workers union.

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The spread of the virus has begun to hit Michigan hard. The TCF Center in downtown Detroit soon will be turned into a 900-bed field hospital for COVID-19 patients.

Safety in the workplace

The workplace environment, for those companies that must have workers on location, is changing.

Walmart will soon be taking temperatures of its workers as they arrive for their shifts.

The nation’s largest private employer is sending infrared thermometers to all locations, though that could take several weeks. Any worker with a temperature of 100 degrees or more will be sent home, with pay, until they are fever-free for at least three days.

Walmart will also be issuing masks and gloves to those who want them. Walmart said it has been following the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which have said those items would do little good for the healthy. Those guidelines are now under aggressive review by health officials.

In places shuttered by the outbreak, many workers will be returning to new rules and safety precautions.

Ford will require that workers “self-certify” online every day before work that they do not have any coronavirus symptoms. The company will verify the self-certification before letting them inside, it said.

Facilities will be reconfigured so that workers remain six feet or more apart on the factory floor. There will be time between shifts for equipment to be sanitized and so that one shift of workers doesn’t cross paths with another, Ford said. Some work stations will be shielded from others, while some workers will be given protective gear depending on need, the company said.

New purpose

Luxury clothing companies, chemical producers, car makers and other companies continue to revamp production to meet new supply demands in the pandemic.

Dow, which typically does not list hand sanitizer among its products, is doing just that at a growing number of facilities because the raw materials are readily available to the chemical maker.

The majority of the sanitizer will be donated to health systems and government agencies.

The company began making sanitizer at its plant in Stade, Germany. Those operations are being expanded at facilities in Michigan, West Virginia, Belgium and Brazil. The Auburn site has the capacity to produce approximately 15,000 pounds of sanitizer a week, or nearly 30,000 eight-ounce bottles. Similar or larger volumes are expected to be produced at the other locations.

Ford is repurposing a parts factory west of Detroit to make simple ventilators starting the week of April 20, and the safety measures will be tested at that plant, the company said.

Brooks Brothers is converting three U.S. factories to produce up to a total of 150,000 masks per day. It will also begin production on protective gowns.

Stay put

Travel has almost come to a complete standstill. Airports are empty and Manhattan avenues typically choked with taxis are almost vacant.

The Transportation Security Administration screened 154,080 people Monday, the fewest yet and a drop of more than 93 per cent from last year, when more than 2.3 million people passed through airport checkpoints.

Visa is reporting a rapid slide in travel-related spending by cardholders. It’s also noticed a decline in spending on restaurants, entertainment and fuel, according to a regulatory filing. U.S. payments volume is down four per cent for the month to date, with credit volume off seven per cent. Cross-border volume tumbled 19 per cent for the period, on a constant dollar basis.

U.S. gasoline prices have dropped to their lowest levels in four years, and they are almost sure to fall further. Price-tracking services put the national average this week at around $2 a gallon. Some stations were charging under a dollar.

Markets

Wall Street was subdued Tuesday, a rarity. The surge of coronavirus cases around the world has sent markets to breathtaking drops since mid-February, and the quarter looks to be the worst performance since the 2008 financial crisis.

Home cooked is king

British supermarkets just had their busiest month in recorded history.

New figures released Tuesday by market research firm Kantar show that British grocery sales jumped by 20.6 per cent in March compared with a year earlier, making it the fastest rate of growth on record. Grocery sales totalled 10.8 billion pounds ($13.3 billion) over the past four weeks, surpassing the level seen during the busy Christmas season. The average household bought the equivalent of five extra days of groceries.

Conagra is reporting “significantly elevated demand” as people stuff their pantries for the long haul.

The maker of Birds Eye, Healthy Choice, Slim Jim, Vlasic pickles and Chef Boyardee, said shipments have increased approximately 50 per cent in the current quarter.