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'This is unsafe': Toyota workers react to extended shutdown after employee tests positive for COVID-19
Published Thursday, March 19, 2020 3:44PM EDT Last Updated Thursday, March 19, 2020 8:09PM EDT
KITCHENER -- Toyota has announced it will extend its North American plant shutdown until April 6.
This is the latest development from North America’s automotive industry as it attempts to pump the brakes in response to the spread of COVID-19.
It also comes after an employee at the Cambridge plant tested positive for the virus.
Workers found out Wednesday while in the middle of their shifts.
“They just told us to leave the plant, don’t touch anything, someone was confirmed positive,” said James Tobin.
Toyota sent out an email saying the employee, who works at the North plant, was last at work on March 12 and has not been back on the job since testing positive for COVID-19. They were told the news by Hamilton Public Health.
The automaker says they've reached out to everyone who had close contact with that employee and told them to go home and self-isolate.
However many employees said they were expected to return Thursday morning for their regularly scheduled shifts.
“I said I don’t think we should be working,” says Steve Porter. “I guarantee you I’m not working today. I think this is unsafe.”
He spoke with the company's Human Resources department about not feeling safe at work.
“She said it’s your right to not work and you are free to go. But she said you’ll be charged a personal day.”
Toyota originally said it would stop production at its Cambridge and Woodstock plants for two days beginning on March 23.
But in a follow-up announcement, sent to employees on Thursday, the automaker said it would extend the plant closure for a total of 10 days.
Toyota says the shutdown will affect "all of its automobile and components plants in North America." That includes Canada, Mexico and the United States.
The company says the decision was made to protect its employees, the community and also because of a "significant market decline" due to the virus.
Lee Sperduti, who works at the Cambridge plant, says he’s feeling relief.
“Ultimately it’s about us going home to our families and making sure they are safe and our communities too. So taking this step back is very important and needed, and will hopefully quell the fire that’s going on inside the plant.”
Sperduti claims employees have long expressed concern about their work space, saying they can’t practice social distancing in the current set-up.
Another Cambridge worker hopes the company takes health and safety seriously when it reopens its doors in April.
“I would like them to learn from this,” says Paul Heaney. “Let’s hope this is a learning experience and they can properly protect us.”
Employees tell CTV News that they will be paid during the planned closure.