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Doosan Bobcat manufacturing plant workers return to additional safety measures

Doosan Bobcat manufacturing plant workers return to additional safety measures

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The employee parking lot at the Doosan Bobcat plant was nearly full on Monday afternoon after manufacturing resumed at the facility on 26th Street in south Bismarck, following a two-week shutdown related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Doosan Bobcat on Monday reopened its manufacturing facilities in Bismarck, Gwinner and Wahpeton after a two-week shutdown tied to the coronavirus pandemic, introducing new measures to protect workers from COVID-19.

The return of the workers from furlough comes as the LM Wind Power plant in Grand Forks and the Smithfield Foods Plant in Sioux Falls, S.D., are shut down following outbreaks of the coronavirus disease in those facilities.

Doosan Bobcat has "established protocol and contingency plans for notification, cleaning and work stoppage if an employee tests positive for COVID-19," the construction equipment giant said on its website

"Our team is ready to disinfect and clean the area where that employee may have been, and we will work with the Department of Health on the contact analysis," Doosan Bobcat North America spokeswoman Stacey Breuer told the Tribune.

About 2,200 employees in the state were impacted by the shutdown, including 660 in Bismarck. The company is based in South Korea, with its North America headquarters in West Fargo. It's one of the Bismarck area's largest employers, according to the Bismarck Mandan Chamber EDC.

The company has provided employees with face masks, but protective coverings often cause safety glasses to fog up, so Doosan Bobcat is also now providing face shields, said William Wilkinson, president of the United Steelworkers Local 560, which represents Bobcat workers at the Gwinner plant. 

The company also is requiring hand sanitizer to be available in plant common areas, and it has shut down all tours of its facilities, Breuer said.

Employees in Gwinner are no longer conducting meetings in break rooms but instead holding them on the production floor with bullhorns, to comply with social distancing guidelines, according to Wilkinson. The company also has placed markers to keep workers 6 feet apart as they punch out of work, and it has kept doors open during shift changes.

Company officials met with the Gwinner production plant union representatives on Monday to discuss the measures, Wilkinson said.

Friday's announcement said "temperature testing may be conducted by an on-site nurse, HR representative or a supervisor." Union officials including Wilkinson hope the company will provide daily testing. 

"We need more temperature checking. If I had it my way, I'd want every single person that works there to get their temperature checked every single day," Wilkinson said.

Doosan Bobcat is considering that, according to Breuer.

Wilkinson also hopes the company will relax its rules requiring employees to provide medical documentation if they call in sick.

Breuer said in an email that "our process hasn't changed. If someone is sick, they are to stay home and upon return to work, provide medical documentation as to why they were out."

Wilkinson said some production workers in Gwinner are worried about coming into work and getting sick.

"It's something I deal with on a daily basis -- they are scared to go to work because of that," he said. "If we can just keep growing on what we've built already, it would be a win for us. And then the true test would be, if someone does test positive, how the union and the company handles that. That we don't just continue to pass the buck or let it spread unchecked in our facility."

Doosan Bobcat allowed production employees whom the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines as "high risk" to take an additional 14 days off before returning to the facility. "Employees may apply for unemployment benefits, receive pay equivalent to short-term disability or utilize vacation time," Breuer said in an email.

Doosan Bobcat is "continuing to evaluate safety measures," according to Breuer.

"Over the weekend we worked very closely with the North Dakota Department of Health to review everything that we are doing and we are meeting or exceeding current CDC guidelines," she told the Tribune.

Reach Andy Tsubasa Field at 701-250-8264 or andy.field@bismarcktribune.com.

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