CORONAVIRUS

Iowa manufacturing, utilities workers still are coming to work. What protections have their employers instituted?

The Quaker Oats sign at the company's plant in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
The Quaker Oats sign at the company’s plant in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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The COVID-19 pandemic, and its spread through Iowa, has seen a number of changes in policy for larger Corridor businesses where some employees cannot work remotely — internally and in how their employees work with customers.

When MidAmerican Energy’s work requires coming into close contact with a customer or entering a customer’s home, for example, employees are first to ask if anyone in the home is under self-isolation for the coronavirus, or experiencing flu-like symptoms, spokesman Geoff Greenwood said.

If yes, Greenwood, said, employees will evaluate whether it’s safe to postpone the work under the customer’s isolation ends and, if not, will wear additional protective equipment.

MidAmerican employees also will comply if a customer asks them to wear face masks or gloves, and will continue to respond to all emergency calls, including for gas leaks, downed power lines or broken poles, Greenwood said.

“The critical service we provide is of even greater importance during severe weather, natural disasters or global pandemics, such as the COVID-19 outbreak,” he said. “MidAmerican will continue to monitor events, communicate with our employees and customers and coordinate with state and federal health organizations as necessary.”

In surveying 558 member companies between Feb. 28 and March 9, the National Association of Manufacturers found more than three-quarters of respondents, or 78.3 percent, anticipated a financial impact to their businesses from the coronavirus.

More than half of respondents, or 53.1 percent, expect a change in operations as a result.

“Already, manufacturers are grappling with disruptions to their businesses due to the COVID-19 outbreak, with many anticipating financial and operational consequences — even before some of the developments of this week,” said Jay Timmons, the association’s president and CEO.

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“Across the country, manufacturers are stepping up to keep their employees and their communities safe and healthy, and working closely with elected officials, we can ensure the resilience not only of our companies but also our country.”

Here is snapshot of what some the area’s larger employers are doing.

Manufacturers

Large employers with Corridor presences, including Collins Aerospace, Archer Daniels Midland, General Mills, Procter and Gamble and Whirlpool Corp., have instituted remote work policies to varying degrees.

• Collins Aerospace has allowed employees who are able to telecommute to work from home. Those who still elect to come in to work, plus visitors, must first perform a daily self-assessment screening, including as to how they’re feeling and where they’ve recently traveled.

On Thursday, the avionics company confirmed two employees at its Cedar Rapids C Avenue facility have been quarantined off-site for 14 days after showing COVID-19 symptoms, prompting the company to identify and send home others who were within six feet of the affected individuals for more than 30 minutes.

• ADM is making location-based decisions on work-from-home policies, factoring in local regulations and health official recommendations, said spokeswoman Jackie Anderson, who noted she did not have information specific to the Chicago-based company’s Cedar Rapids plant,

• All of P&G’s North American employees — including those at its Iowa City facility — should collaborate with managers on a plan to work from home through the end of March, said CEO David Taylor in a March 12 letter to employees. Those who must work at the company’s offices, manufacturing sites or distribution centers have been directed not to come to work if they feel unwell or believe they have been in contact with someone who has become sick.

• At General Mills’s Cedar Rapids facility, representatives have asked employees who are able to work remotely to do so until April 1, spokeswoman Kelsey Roemhildt said.

• A Whirlpool Corp. spokesman said the company is deploying remote work policies “where possible” and otherwise continuing operations in line with local and state policies, including at its Amana and North Liberty facilities.

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Collins Aerospace, ADM and P&G also have temporarily halted most business travel, while ADM, General Mills and P&G have barred all but essential visitors to their facilities.

• PepsiCo, parent company of Quaker Oats, continues “to enforce already strict preventive safety and sanitation measures in all of our manufacturing and warehouse locations,” including at Quaker Oats’ Cedar Rapids facility, said Chicago-based spokeswoman Brianna Swan.

“Should anyone in any of our locations test positive for COVID-19, we have robust measures in place to ensure swift action and notifications to all parties involved.”

Utilities

John Larsen, Alliant Energy’s chairman, president and CEO, said last week that the company’s employee work-practice changes will include maintaining social distances of at least six feet, postponing non-essential work that requires employees to enter homes or businesses and using gloves when entering for work essential to safety.

Alliant also has suspended commercial air travel for business, plus trips to conferences and trade events; will hold large meetings using technology whenever possible; and limit in-person meetings with third parties at its facilities, said spokeswoman Cindy Tomlinson.

In a Thursday letter to customers, Cedar Rapids-based ImOn Communications said it has asked all employees who can to work remotely, and for all employees returning from any travel, international or domestic, to isolate for 14 days.

The “very few” employees who must perform functions in ImOn’s offices are being provided appropriate space for social distancing.

With ImOn’s walk-in customer care front desk temporarily closed, the company still will accept monthly bill payments through its online portal, via telephone or mail, in locked drop boxes outside its Cedar Rapids and Iowa City offices and at Cedar Rapids Bank and Trust’s downtown office.

“We will continue to serve our customers in all other ways ... and will notify you as soon as we feel it is appropriate to reopen our walk-in customer care office,” ImOn said.

Comments: (319) 398-8366; thomas.friestad@thegazette.com

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