Lear’s COVID-19 playbook becomes reality

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At Lear’s Flint plant, every other urinal (I only went into the men’s room) is covered in orange tape, as well as the sinks.

Workers are instructed to maintain distance as they enter, use the restrooms and wash up. Scott mentioned to Frank Orsini, president of the supplier’s seating division, that turning the water off at the cordoned off sinks was important as workers at its Tuscaloosa, Ala., plant had used them anyway in a rush to get out of the restroom. Toilet stalls did not appear to be limited in any fashion.

A more rigid cleaning schedule is also now a priority. In fact, cleansers and supplies are located on carts throughout the plant. Orsini said one worker per every 12-14 employees is dedicated to sanitization.

The second-floor conference rooms and office space have also changed. No more than 10 people are permitted in a conference room and extra partitions were added between cubicles.

But the main show at the plant is the seat production and work stations that were adjusted to meet the company’s new protocols. Plexiglass dividers were added between work stations and work flows changed to provide optimal distancing. That, of course, comes at a cost.

Scott declined to discuss the costs associated with all the new safety measures, but efficiency is certainly slowed.

Orsini indicated on the tour that production will likely slow from 16 seats per hour to only 12.

Scott quickly said, “I don’t care about volumes right now. Let’s get this (safety) right.”

Maybe that’s just a peachy line to say in front of a reporter, trying to prove the health of Lear’s employees are more important than profits.

But I didn’t get that sense from Scott. He mentioned more than once when I was near out of earshot that he’d push back on the customer — the Flint plant supplies complete seats to GM’s Flint Assembly a mere five miles away — if safety protocols were not working or compromised in order to meet demand. Scott also recognizes the well-being of employees is directly related to profits long-term. An outbreak of COVID-19 shuts down production, too.

Scott and Lear appear to be committed to solving the pandemic puzzle as well as easing employees’ minds. During the open house Thursday and potentially into next week, the company was offering on-site antibody testing to its employees. A staff of four from Beaumont Health operated the testing — a serology test determines whether the patient has had COVID-19 and whether they now have antibodies against the virus.

Crain’s Detroit Business reporter Jay Greene has written about his own experience with the antibody test in recent weeks.

As Greene notes, as of now the antibody tests are experimental and can’t determine whether COVID-19 antibodies mean a person is immune to the virus … yet.

Scott hopes the tests could in the future allow the company to improve efficiency and protocols if it knows who is and who is not immune, but acknowledges the limits of the testing. But he said even if it’s just data collection for the health sector, he’s happy to provide it to patients.

He already got his antibody test and insisted I do as well … for the greater good or maybe just peace of mind.

So, there I was, in the middle of an automotive manufacturing plant in Flint, getting blood drawn in the throes of a global pandemic.

I felt safe. From my very limited point of view, the protocols and processes at the plant seem about as safe as one could hope to be while producing automotive seats in the current environment.

I’ll find out if I have COVID-19 antibodies in the next two to three days and will know just how safe I was at the plant in the next two weeks.

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Saurabh Shukla

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