GM launches training for 1,000 to make ventilators to wage COVID-19 fight

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

General Motors Co. on Thursday said it has begun to train the 1,000 workers who will work at its Kokomo Operations in Indiana to build ventilators amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The workers consist of paid volunteers from GM's existing workforce as its vehicle manufacturing operations sit idle because of the outbreak, as well as new hires from the Kokomo area. The Detroit automaker has partnered with Washington-based Ventec Life Systems to build per month 10,000 of its much-needed devices that help patients with severe cases of respiratory illness to breathe.

General Motors employees report to their first day of work Tuesday, March 31, 2020 at the GM manufacturing facility in Kokomo, Indiana, where GM and Ventec Life Systems are partnering to produce Ventec VOCSN critical care ventilators in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"People have moved mountains to help increase production of Ventec’s critical care ventilator and we are just weeks away from delivering these lifesaving devices," Gerald Johnson, GM executive vice president of global manufacturing, said in a statement. "I have never seen anything like it in my career.”

Additionally, GM is implementing new measures to protect the workers. They will sanitize their hands before starting, have their temperature checked with a non-contact thermometer before entering the job site and wear face masks, including those being produced at GM's former Warren Transmission Plant.

The employees will have 30 minutes before and after their shifts to clean their workstations, which will be 6 feet apart. Cleaning crews will disinfect common areas and door handles at least three times per shift. Each crew will enter through different doors to minimize social contact.

"Our goal is to make sure that each and every day, people return home to their families and communities safe and healthy," Terry Dittes, United Auto Workers vice president and director of the GM Department, said in a statement. "We applaud their courage in volunteering in our nation’s time of need, and we commend GM for working with the UAW to save lives across this country.”

Similar protocols could be put into place when vehicle manufacturing restarts. Ford Motor Co. is taking similar measures at its Rawsonville Components Plant in Ypsilanti, where it is making air-pressure powered ventilators for GE Healthcare. Employees there will be pre-screened and have appropriate barriers and shields in place. The automaker also is investigating the use of other technology to record temperatures.

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble