Auto parts supplier Gestamp has restarted its three Chattanooga plants after a hiatus due to the coronavirus, with plans for its 1,000 workers to all return by mid-June to the end of July.
The company's factories, which supply Volkswagen's Chattanooga assembly plant as well as other automakers in the South, had furloughed workers in March.
Susana Tello, Gestamp's North American communications director, said that roughly a third of the Chattanooga workforce is back so far. How soon the Gestamp plants go to full speed will depend on its customers, she said.
"We don't know what will happen with the pandemic," Tello said about the company that makes underbodies and outer skin parts for vehicles made by VW in Chattanooga.
Volkswagen returned to production last week in Chattanooga after a nearly two-month shut down due to the coronavirus.
Tom du Plessis, CEO of VW Chattanooga, said that plant is going through four phases of rebooting assembly. With about 90 new safety steps, VW is taking it slow and starting at just 50% production, he said. He expects to be up to full production next month if all goes well.
Tello said that Gestamp, too, has put into place a wide array of safety measures at its plants in Chattanooga and worldwide.
"We have very high standards and requirements to fulfill," she said. "We have a prevention protocol that really takes care of every single aspect."
Tello said Gestamp is asking employees to take their temperatures and conduct a self-assessment even before coming to work. If their temperature is above 100 degrees, they call their supervisor, stay home and see a doctor, she said.
If employees fall ill at the plant, they're told to inform their supervisor and immediately leave the facility, Tello said.
"The goal is spotting and to be on the look for potential symptoms," she said, adding that if someone is positive for coronavirus, they're in quarantine for 14 days.
Meanwhile, at the plant, Gestamp has provided a lot of instructions to employees.
"We've taken best practices all over the world," Tello said about the Spain-based company that operates about 100 production plants in 21 countries employing around 41,000 workers.
She said there's a COVID-19 response team in every factory led by the plant director.
Everyone wears a mask at the plants, the company spokeswoman said.
"We provide one mask per day (per employee)," she said. "They have to wear our mask to ensure they're protected."
Employees, who also wear gloves, have their work stations cleaned when they arrive and leave, Tello said.
Tello said social distancing inside the Gestamp plants is "really strict."
"Meetings are banned unless strictly necessary," she said. That includes visitors from outside the plants which need to be "business critical," Tello said.
"You have to ask permission and that given by the plant director," she said.
Seating at break areas is spread out, with marks on tables where employees can place trays and designated locations for chairs, Tello said.
The company has provided guidance to employees about what to do at home when it comes to washing their closes and keeping their families safe, she said.
"We're working for a safe return," Tello said. "We need to change habits and mindsets."
Contact Mike Pare at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.