How a CEO mobilized a factory deemed essential to keep it running and (he hopes) safe
Bay Area fruit and vegetable bag maker Emerald Packaging lays down rules to keep employees healthy and its business operating.Column: Republicans claim the stock market’s health is more important than your safety Starting with President Trump, the GOP is calling to put millions at risk of contracting coronavirusso the stock market recovers. Kelly called a niece, a graduate student in public health, who helped with the handwashing protocol: arrive at work, wash hands, punch in on the time clock, wash hands. Use alcohol spray to wipe down high-contact workstation areas at the beginning and end of each shift, never mind that someone had just done it. “We figured different people would [tend to] wipe down different parts,” Kelly said. Kelly woke up one night gripped with anxiety about unwiped handrails, lockers, doorknobs. Two cleaners were hired for each shift to do nothing but keep surfaces clean. Not everyone got the message. Kelly and Joyappa came in the following Sunday for a surprise inspection. In one area, the spray bottles stood empty. Nobody had taken responsibility for refills. At a staff meeting, Kelly reiterated his insistence that anyone sick must stay home. One guy put his hand up and asked, what if he was the only one who could operate a machine and it went down? Advertisement “I looked at him and said, ‘Don’t … f—ing … come … in’ and had him repeat it,” he said. “Everybody laughed, but they got the message.” The company has added two weeks to its regular 40-hour paid time off policy. “But if someone gets the virus it is totally open-ended. No one will lose their job, raise or seniority” if they’re infected, Kelly said. Emerald sells its products around the world. Employees who had come back from an international trip were told to self-quarantine for 14 days. Office workers in purchasing and customer service departments received instructions to work from home, a culture shock. Pallavi Joyappa, Emerald’s chief operating officer. (Russ Mitchell / Los Angeles Times) “For a factory like us, this whole work-from-home concept is difficult,” COO Joyappa said. “We have people running back and forth to the factory to see how things are going.” The company suddenly had to look at using Zoom, Webex, Skype or Slack, or some combination of collaboration software. Its two information technology staffers, Irina Anikieva and Steven Kokal, took only eight hours to have a system up and running for the 10 employees working from home. By March 16, a six-county Bay Area “shelter in place” had been ordered, with only “essential” businesses allowed to stay open. The federal government’s critical infrastructure list, recommended as a guide by Gov. Gavin Newsom, counts companies such as Emerald as essential, Kelly said. He had staff type up letters, print them and hand them out to employees to show to police if they were stopped while driving in. Truck drivers delivering goods received similar letters. Truckers were also asked not to step inside the building and to wash their hands before handing over paperwork and unloading cargo. Sinks were set up at the loading dock. While all this was happening, the factory had to re-gear for a dramatic change in product mix. “It’s shifted radically,” Kelly said. “No packaging for food service like restaurants or catering companies and a total switch to retail, with more complicated graphics to appeal to consumers, which takes longer to print. Food service packaging went from 10% of our sales to zero overnight.” Now that Emerald is reaching operational equilibrium, Kelly and Joyappa are planning to make the rounds through their industrial park, introduce themselves to other companies, and offer to talk about ways to share resources. Emerald is trying to help a favorite local restaurant stay alive — eating choices around the park are limited. “The restaurant is dying, so we ordered 270 burritos and chips,” Kelly said. Emerald employees will get a free lunch once a week. Read more: L.A. Times Health
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