USW members kick up production of PPE in U.S. and Canada

While most workers in both the United States and Canada have been forced to stay home amidst the coronavirus pandemic, many, including quite a few USW members, have continued working as essential workers. A group of workers in West Virginia, however, have brought their home to work, playing a vital role in the battle against the pandemic.

More than 40 members of Local 721 at Braskem America have been participating in a “live-in” at their production facility in Neal, West Virginia, since March 31, rotating in 12-hour shifts to create raw materials needed for medical supplies as well as respiratory masks and other protective equipment. This is both serving to protect the workers and their families at home as well as to meet the high demand for products.

“We’re truly honored to be able to give back and support people we will never meet in some way,” operations shift supervisor Joe Boyce told WPVI. “All the first responders, all the people on the front lines, we thank you. That's what makes our job easy to do.”

Local 1-500 members, who manufacture refrigeration products, will also now be adding production of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and medical transportation coolers to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Workers at Koolatron Corporation’s Brantford, Ontario, plant are already producing face shields. Further production of masks, including N95 masks, is expected to begin as soon as the company gets federal approval.

“The term ‘Made in Canada by USW Local 1-500’ has more significance than ever before,” said USW Ontario Director Marty Warren. “Our members were involved in supporting the company’s move to add production that will help fight the COVID-19 pandemic. This is about more than jobs. This is about doing the right thing.”

The face shields, made at a rate of 100 per hour, are already being manufactured and sold in southern Ontario, and union members are ready to begin work on other products.

Members at USW Local 366 in Portland, Maine, are also currently producing 5,000 face shields every day at American Roots in a partnership with Flowfold. They are also making surgical-grade masks, designed in conjunction with professors at the University of Connecticut.

“Two weeks ago, American Roots shut its factory down in order to evaluate the safety and well-being of our employees and their ability to work during the COVID-19 crisis,” said American Roots CEO Ben Waxman in a memo. “Within one-week, American Roots, a 100-percent American-made and proudly USW Local 366 union-made company, made the decision to move forward with re-tooling our current factory to produce desperately needed PPE for those on the front lines of this crisis.”

Waxman also stated that they have the ability and space to potentially increase capacity, if needed.

“We are doing everything in our power to get the costs of our face shields down, including new, more efficient designs and inviting unemployed union volunteers to help us assemble them,” said Waxman.

You can order face shields from American Roots, as well as custom masks with filters, by emailing or calling 207-854-4098.  

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