Unguarded: GM Is Happy To Be Giving Away Its Covid-19 Playbook
In football, a team’s playbook is guarded with nearly manic effort by everyone in the organization, and woe be to any coach or player who loses one — much less the Benedict Arnold who for some reason might give a copy to the opposition.
But in today’s U.S. auto industry, playbooks are like the gospel: They’re meant to be given away and shared as widely as possible, with the more readers, the better.
That’s because the playbooks in question these days are the detailed, voluminous guides to how auto manufacturers are re-opening their plants with Covid-19 health and safety protocols. And in that regard, General Motors CEO Mary Barra and Jim Glynn, the company’s vice president of worker safety, are hoping their jointly authored, 48-page guide, “Returning to the Workplace with Confidence: Covid-19 Employee Guide,” reaches every corner of the industry.
It’s free to all, but that’s not the reason GM’s playbook seems destined to become a best-seller. Every company in the vast, deep network of the U.S. and global automotive supply chain is eager to rejoin the working economy again, but to do so their leaders must not only be careful in restarting but also take great pains to avoid any early misstep. Expertise like that provided by GM’s guidebook — and by those also produced by other companies, such as Tier One supplier Lear — can be invaluable not only to automotive manufacturers but also to thousands of other factory operators across the country.
“We knew we had to get this right ourselves and clearly articulate our requirements and what to do at every site,” Glynn told me. “Then we had to think about our supply base to help make them equally successful; we’ve had several seminars for a total of literally hundreds of suppliers wondering what we were doing to prepare for restart.” GM also, he said, has “shared our ideas with other companies and with competitors and with industry councils so we can learn from them as well and incorporate all the best practices into our documents.”
General Motors is re-starting its U.S. factories this week, so the company is taking every step leaders can think of to ensure that managers enact and follow the protocols, that employees and the United Auto Workers are comfortable with their requirements, and that everyone embrace the guides as a significant enabler for the company and the industry to restore production, sales, profits and renewed prosperity as quickly as possible.
To that end, Barra even directed a “care package” be sent to every GM employee last week that included a flyer with the highlights of the playbook, a letter signed by her, and five face masks that were manufactured at a company facility in Warren, Michigan. Her personal touch was reinforced by the fact that the package contained not just a single medical-grade mask but enough for a typical family.
Barra “wanted to make sure early on in this pandemic that every people leader in GM understood the protocol intimately,” Glynn explained. “And she recognized right away that, whether someone works in a plant or in a lab or in our technical center [in Michigan], or at an office in the Renaissance Center” headquarters of GM in downtown Detroit, “they are going to have some apprehensions about the virus and whether they’ll be safe. That was her focus.”
So the playbook is “meant to very comprehensively, and in as much detail as we could, provide help so that our people leaders can be as knowledgeable about our protocols as any medical or safety professional,” Glynn said. “Because they’re who people are going to turn to.”
GM’s protocols themselves demonstrate two advantages over much of the other information out there. One is an attribute enjoyed by some other OEMs and major suppliers: They’ve already learned and applied health and safety lessons from the restarting of their Asian plants a few weeks ago. Another edge is enjoyed by only GM and Ford, which is the fact that each of them reopened a U.S. plant a few weeks ago to shift quickly to production of pandemic-fighting medical equipment.
“Some of the ‘whats’ applied pretty well for the couple hundred people entering the site” at GM’s Kokomo, Indiana, electronics plant, which it refitted to produce ventilators, Glynn said. “But it gets more difficult when you’ve got 1,000 people coming into a [different] plant for a shift. So we are scaling up our approach so that, instead of just one entrance, we are duplicating our [screening] efforts at two or three entrances to the plant.”
The needs for new protocols, redesign of many plant-floor processes, and an overall abundance of caution can be counted on to slash productivity that most auto plants enjoyed pre-Covid 19. Yet at first, that shouldn’t be an issue because auto sales, and the entire manufacturing supply chain, will take a while to creak back to life.
And Glynn said that he expects factory productivity to rise rapidly anyway, after an initial orientation period. Even something as simple as donning a mask can pose a complication to an auto worker who wears glasses – or, as many do, safety glasses – by fogging them, for example.
“But we’ve learned tips and tricks to prevent that from happening,” he said. “We’re doing all of these things to protect people and help them be comfortable in the workplace. Once they understand that, productivity takes care of itself pretty quickly.
“Everywhere we’ve put this into place,” such as plants in Asia, Glynn said, “people get on it it and get back to normal productivity. They like the routine; they have a sense of accomplishment; and it feels comfortable for them to be back at work.”
Source: Dale Buss
GM and Ford lay out plans to restart their US factories
(CNN)General Motors and Ford laid out plans for restarting their US factories while, at the same time, attempting to protect workers from the coronavirus.
Both companies detailed how they would thoroughly clean facilities and allot extra time between work shifts to do so. The automakers said they will also screen employees with questionnaires before they leave for work and temperature checks as they enter a plant or other facilities.
Employees who have recently been exposed to someone with the coronavirus or exhibit a high temperature or other Covid-19-related symptoms will be sent to local clinics for testing before they are allowed to return to work.
While in factories, employees will work at least six feet apart from one another whenever possible, the companies said. Employee workstations will be separated by clear plastic panels. Workers will also wear surgical-style face masks and clear plastic face shields whenever they’re required to work close to one another.
These practices are based on the experiences the companies have had at their factories in China and, in GM’s case, Korea. Ford executives said 90% of the employees at their plants in China, which started reopening in mid-February, have now returned to work. Ford also recently reopened a plant in Thailand that it operates with Mazda.
“Absolutely I would feel comfortable sending my family to work at Ford,” said Jim Farley, Ford’s chief operating officer, when asked how confident he felt in the steps the company was taking.
A Ford of Europe employee wearing protective equipment similar to that US employees will be required to wear.
Both Ford (F) and GM (GM) have also been operating a few plants in the US in order to make personal protective equipment and ventilators for healthcare workers. Ford has also been manufacturing face masks for its own workers around the world. Both companies also have some warehouses operating to distribute parts for repairs. Workers at those US plants have also been trying out the safety protocols and equipment that will go into wider use in the US as factories reopen.
Employees at Ford’s currently operating US plants will be sharing their experiences with other employees. Among other things, they will describe what it’s like working with masks and face shields on and the best ways to wear and use them, said Kiersten Robinson, Ford’s chief human resources officer.
Automakers are racing to make ventilators. But it’s not that easy
Both companies will also make changes to how “common areas,” such as dining areas, are used in order to keep employees apart from one another.
GM expects to restart operations in mid-May, according to an executive familiar with the plans. A Ford executive declined to provide a specific timeframe for restarting the company’s factories, but said decisions for each factory will depend on local conditions and requirements. The company said it is closely monitoring conditions in areas where it has factories.
The United Auto Workers Union, which represents assembly line workers at Ford, GM and Fiat Chrysler (FCAU), is asking for more coronavirus testing of employees.
“Our position is that we employ as much testing as is possible at the current time and commit to full testing as soon as it is available,” UAW president Rory Gamble said in a statement.
Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNN Business
For GM employees building ventilators on COVID-19’s front lines, their work is actually saving them
“This is our saving grace, and if we can save one person it’ll all be worth it.”
Penni Cox wakes up before dawn, taking her coffee to-go as she makes the 10-minute drive down the road from her home to the General Motors campus in Kokomo, Indiana. She arrives at the Engineering Resource Center as the sun rises.
Until recently, its three stories stood empty; auto work in Kokomo has steadily drained, and the absence of opportunity has meant indefinite layoffs. Then, as the coronavirus swept across the globe, the building surged to life, reopening to make much-needed ventilators for the nation’s sick.
“It has been nonstop, and a whirlwind of emotions,” Cox told ABC News.
She was laid off on March 13, out of a job after nearly 14 years — three generations of her family, a part of the United Auto Workers. Her aunt, mother, grandmother, all worked at GM; her son will now join making ventilators; her grandfather worked across the street at Fiat-Chrysler. Before being laid off, her husband also worked at that FCA plant, where in late March, a fellow UAW worker tested positive for COVID-19 then died.
“It’s scary. The virus is scary. Not knowing our plant’s future is scary. But we won’t give up,” Cox said. “Work has slowly declined, we’ve been losing people to layoffs for a while, and unfortunately I was one of them.”
“You teach your children to help others. But when the time comes and you can finally do it — when they call you and say, ‘Hey, do you want to make ventilators?’ It’s like — well yeah!”
Her work ceased just as the virus flared, and hospitals braced for a deluge of patients and a looming ventilator shortage. As a precaution against the spread of COVID-19, the plant finally shut down.
In late March, General Motors and Ventec Life Systems announced a partnership to mass-produce critical care ventilators in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, pledging 30,000 by the end of August: a $489.4 million contract with the Department of Health and Human Services. Cox and her United Autoworkers Local 292 team were brought back.
Working “around the clock,” as General Motors said in a statement, their first ventilators began rolling off the line in a matter of weeks.
“Right now? It’s much more rewarding making a ventilator than making a car,” Cox said. “We’re all working long hours, it gets tiring, but when you see who you’re helping — it’s all worth it. I love my Chevys but I definitely feel much more sense of pride in making a ventilator.”
“There’s a mood in there that hasn’t been for a long time — we’ve been shrinking for so long,” UAW Local 292 President Matt Collins told ABC News.
“We’ve got mixed emotions,” he said of the good fortune brought about by grim circumstances. “But this has made a lot of new opportunities for a lot of people.”
Penni Cox arrives at the plant before 6:30 a.m. each day, where she — and everyone else — gets immediately checked for a fever before being admitted. Cox wears a mask and gloves throughout the day, except for when she eats or drinks.
On the line, Cox makes the ventilator back cases.
“We do a lot of messing with the screws,” Cox said. “The part that hangs on the cart you push around, that hook right there. Then a thermal cover, plastic pieces to the center band — it basically holds the main guts in.”
The Kokomo plant was picked to make the ventilators because it already handled precision electronic parts — and it had preexisting clean rooms, required for medical equipment production by the FDA.
“We’re pretty dedicated,” Cox said. “There are a lot of people putting in 10, 12 hour days. They just kept telling us, ‘We don’t have any work for you,’ and we just kept saying, Well you’ve got to!’ And then this came along. We’re kind of the little engine that could.”
From a workforce that was once roughly 12,000 strong, their union now has whittled down to a few hundred. But the ventilator production is expected to boost numbers operating out of the Kokomo facility to roughly 1,000.
“We’re so hungry for work, we’d build anything. We’d make cakes,” Collins said. His plant has seen hundreds of layoffs in the last few years, he said. And as membership declines, maintaining the local union can itself become more of a financial burden.
“But now this is going to save lives, and it’s just a really cool thing,” he said.
Collins, also a third-generation GM worker, is himself at higher risk for infection: Three years ago, he told ABC News, doctors found a tumor and removed most of one of his lungs. His voice wheezes lightly as he talks.
“I worry about going anywhere — but I feel safer going to the plant than I do going to the grocery store,” he said. “I couldn’t sit this out — I wanted to be a part of it. There’s no place I’d rather be.”
Asked about the parallels to World War II’s war effort — to “Rosie the Riveter” — Penni Cox shrugged.
“Not so much,” Cox said. “This is really nothing new for us — people give us credit and that’s nice but we’re just doing our jobs.”
“We’re not the heroes,” she continued. “The medical staff out there — they’re the real heroes. And they’re the ones that need help. We’re just trying to back them up.”
Once their contract with Ventec is over, the future is uncertain. There are no assurance there will be work ahead, Cox said.
“Our plant doesn’t really have anything to go back to,” she said. “We’re hoping that something big comes of this for us. ‘Cause when the ventilators are done — we could be done.”
“I feel like this is our saving grace — and if we can save at least one person in the process, that keeps us going every day,” Cox said. “The long hours, the sore hands, the climbing 50 million steps every day, it’ll all be worth it. So just let us show you what we can do.”
What to know about the coronavirus:
How it started and how to protect yourself: Coronavirus explained
What to do if you have symptoms: Coronavirus symptoms
Tracking the spread in the U.S. and worldwide: Coronavirus map
Scary Bobsled Crash Led Kristi Koplin Home Early, Just In Time To Fight COVID-19 As Urgent Care Nurse
Kristi Koplin, a pilot on the U.S. bobsled team, posted an emotional message on her Instagram account on Jan. 8, essentially telling the world she might be done with her sport.
The 33-year-old Koplin was hurt, struggling with the pain and injuries from a serious crash during her second-to-last run during a competition in Lake Placid, New York. The crash was so hard, she said, that she blacked out and woke up fearing she’d been paralyzed. Thankfully she wasn’t, but she had terrible bruises all over her body, another concussion and the growing realization that her life may not be building toward the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022.
So Koplin came home to Park City, Utah, to heal — physically and emotionally — and head back to work as an urgent care nurse.
She’s been alternating between bobsled and nursing for years, so the switch was normal. But soon the whole world turned upside down, as the COVID-19 pandemic started to spread, and Koplin became part of a team at Intermountain Healthcare testing for the virus at a drive-up clinic in an underground level of a parking garage.
“It’s been intense, because there is so much anxiety right now,” said Koplin, who is also a captain in the Army Reserve. “I try to help the people coming in by being calm, and giving them the knowledge and comfort that we’re here for them. We can figure out what is going on, test them and try to get them the info and the help they need.
“But yeah, it’s been go, go, go for the past couple of weeks, and that’s not going to stop anytime soon since Utah has it pretty bad where I am.”
Koplin is seeing a steady stream of sick people of all ages. The hard part is hearing their stories of fear and illness, as COVID-19 is the main theme of every conversation. She is dressed in full protective gear, making her look more like an astronaut than a caring nurse trying to test or triage — all in a parking lot, no less.
“Your heart breaks when you hear people are running low on inhalers, or they can’t find Mucinex or Tylenol in the store,” she said. “The essentials are running low everywhere and you want to help them, like the mom who can’t find Motrin to help break her daughter’s fever. I really want to help them.”
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The COVID-19 virus weighs on Koplin’s mind too, as she lives with her two over-70 parents. She is isolating herself in the basement, trying to avoid bringing anything home from the testing station to her family.
“I understand the anxiety, I go up and down with it too,” she said. “I think my greatest fear would be to expose them — and have them come down with it. That is the scary part, you don’t know if you are carrying it with you. So that is why staying at home is so important for everybody to limit the spread. I can’t stay home, because I am part of the health care system, but I am trying to do my part at home.”
Koplin likely will not be home much longer though, as her reserve unit (Army Reserve 328 Field Hospital) is getting activated and will soon be deployed. She doesn’t know where she will be in the U.S., but she’s eager to help serve the areas in need.
Koplin now sees her early end to the bobsled season as a hidden blessing. She was having a strong season, ranked second overall in the second-tier North American Cup. She had won three gold medals and two silvers. But if she had not crashed and been injured, she would have continued the season until it ended due to the pandemic. Meaning she would have come back to nursing tired and a bit beat up from bobsled.
“I got a chance to rest. I got a chance to heal, and both those things helped me jump into this and deal with the grind,” Koplin said. “I really can see things happened the way the needed to.”
She’s back to working out, thanks to some equipment at her sister’s house, and the time and space from her crash has brought new perspective.
She doesn’t have to make any big decisions about bobsled right now.
“When that injury happened, my immediate thought was, I am done,” she said. “I went through a week of depression after that. Now, I am more like, I don’t want to be done. The Olympics are so close, it’s knocking at the door.
“I feel good, I still have so much passion about doing everything I am doing. So, I am just going to keep going, staying in shape and seeing where life takes me. I can feel it in my soul: this is what I need to be doing right now. I am helping people, and I am getting mobilized. And I am ready.”
Joanne C. Gerstner has covered two Olympic Games and writes regularly for the New York Times and other outlets about sports. She has written for TeamUSA.org since 2009 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.