Editorial: Get factories open and operating
Correction: The governor will allow construction to resume Thursday, May 7. An earlier version of this editorial said construction could resume Monday.
Restarting a manufacturing plant is not as simple as flipping on a switch. Equipment that has sat dormant for several weeks has to be tested and serviced. Protective measures must be put in place to deal with the COVID-19 threat. And employees must be trained in new policies and procedures aimed at maintaining a safe workplace.
That process could take two weeks to a month, depending on the facility.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer should give the go-ahead for Michigan manufacturers that have been idled to start that process of reopening their facilities.
The governor says she will allow construction to resume on Thursday, and manufacturing is expected to be the next phase of the economy allowed to restart, perhaps by mid-May.
The industry could safely get back to work now, and should be allowed to do so, considering the long lead time between reopening and getting products out the door and to customers.
Since there have been a few outbreaks in Big Three automotive plants, however, employers must be able to demonstrate that they have taken every precaution to protect workers.
John Walsh, head of the Michigan Manufacturers Association, says about half of his 1,800 members have been idled by the state-ordered shutdown.
Most, he says, are ready to resume operations with anti-virus precautions in place.
"We’re asking the governor to let us come in now and start getting things ready," Walsh says. "It’s our opinion, and we have evidence to prove it, that manufacturing is a safe place to work."
The evidence, he says, are those manufacturers that have been open and running throughout the pandemic because they make products deemed essential. They have done so safely by screening employees, practicing social distancing, using personal protection equipment and putting in place training and administrative policies.
Walsh says MMA members that have remained open have not experienced large outbreaks of the virus.
"The procedures have been quite successful among the plants that are still open," he says. "Members are saying the efforts are working. They need a safe and healthy workforce on site. We believe the industry can handle risk mitigation."
Walsh adds that orders are beginning to come in from other countries that have restarted their manufacturing sectors.
“Our members are reporting an increase in orders from their customers, both domestically and world-wide, as states continue to lighten their executive orders and worldwide demand resumes,” he says. “They will face contractual penalties and the potential loss of customers if they are unable to resume work in Michigan.
“Some members that are operating plants both in Michigan and elsewhere, are beginning to wonder why they are permitted to operate safely in, say, Ohio, but not able to do so at their facility in Michigan.”
An estimated half of the state’s 650,000 manufacturing workers have laid off because of the shutdown.