COVID-19 illnesses and quarantines are creating a shortage of assembly line workers.
COVID-19 infections continue to rise dramatically in the United States but most companies are still open for business. That holds true for automakers in the country, though a new report from WOSU Public Media suggests Honda is taking some aggressive steps to keep its Marysville assembly plant up and running.
The report states Honda is requiring some white-collar office workers to take up positions on the plant assembly line. That was confirmed to Motor1.com in a statement from a Honda spokesperson:
"Due to strong customer demand for our products and the need to carefully manage production during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are facing some temporary staffing issues that require support from associates who do not typically work in production. We have implemented such temporary measures in the past, and are working diligently to attract and hire associates to support our production needs."
Honda employees involved in purchasing, research and development, and accounting are reportedly among those being approached for assembly line work. Honda’s official statement says the company has taken similar steps in the past, but the WOSU report identifies one anonymous employee who claims to have never seen this action taken before. That employee also allegedly said the process started with Honda asking for volunteers, but then became mandatory as there weren’t many people volunteering.
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This situation raises some additional questions, not the least of which being the kind of work office employees are tasked with doing. Furthermore, what kind of training is being implemented to have these employees up-to-speed on assembly work? On the health side, how many production line workers are sidelined at the plant to necessitate this step? Honda didn’t immediately respond to our request for additional information on these subjects.
Honda’s main statement, however, does emphasize measures undertaken to keep assembly line workers as safe as possible:
"With tens of thousands of associates building products in America, we are not unique in having members of our team affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The health and safety of our associates is our highest priority and, acting out of an abundance of caution whenever a member of our team tests positive or is suspected for COVID-19, we use contact tracing to determine those who may have been exposed to the affected team member - sometimes resulting in the need for additional associates to quarantine. These precautions, combined with strong demand for our products, has created the need to ask some support associates to work temporarily in the production area."
The WOSU report suggests not all of Honda’s employees are comfortable with this arrangement, citing concerns over working in areas where people have already tested positive for COVID-19. Additionally, the report cites a United Auto Workers (UAW) Union representative questioning the training of such individuals suddenly dropped into the situation. Allegedly, employees sent to production are not given any training until they get there to work. The Marysville plant is not part of the UAW.