Workers at Braskem America's polypropylene resin plant in Marcus Hook, Pa., have ended an epic 28-day shift, while workers at the firm's plant in Neal, W. Va., will end a similar effort on April 29.
The Marcus Hook shift involved 46 workers and the Neal team has 44. Employees at both sites agreed to live at the plants to ensure there would be no interruption in production of much-needed material for medical supplies during the COVID-19 crisis.
Braskem officials proposed the idea of the 28-day shift based on a number of factors, including customer needs, Northeast Industrial Director Conway Yee said in an April 22 interview with Plastics News.
"We presented the options, but it came down to our team members," he added. "To their credit, they decided to stay at the plants."
Yee said that he personally wasn't surprised by the workers' decisions. "That's who they are," he added. "They have a great sense of commitment to their communities."
PP resin made by Braskem in Marcus Hook and Neal is used in fabric for N95 masks, hospital gowns and hoods, sanitary wipes and similar products. Braskem America CEO Mark Nikolich previously said that in the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis, the firm put social distancing and work-from-home initiatives in place while a crisis management team reviewed operations.
The live-in idea was proposed to halt the daily movement of employees to and from the facilities, potentially bringing the virus into the plants or taking it back to high-risk family members. During the 28-day periods, Braskem is increasing wages while also supplying beds, kitchens, groceries, internet access and iPads. Employees are working 12-hour shifts in two groups around the clock.
Braskem's materials have been declared essential by all states it operates in and by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, so its plants can remain open. On April 5 in Marcus Hook, friends and relatives of workers showed their support by driving by and blaring horns, waving signs and shouting encouragement.
The Marcus Hook plant now is operating with a modified work schedule, Yee said. The Neal plant will do the same when the 28-day shift ends there.
"Our team members understand the need to get adequate supplies to the health care industry," Yee said. "They know they can make an impact."
Philadelphia-based Braskem America is a unit of Braskem SA of São Paulo, Brazil, which is one of the largest polyolefins makers in the Americas.