Toyota Canada workers return to work following shutdown

Team leaders at Toyota Canada's manufacturing plants in Cambridge and Woodstock are expected to return to work Monday morning, the first step in a gradual process of reopening following an almost two month-long shutdown.

Plants shuttered since March 19 after worker tested positive for COVID-19

Team leaders for Toyota will return to work Monday to learn safety procedures, said company president Frank Voss. The first few cars won't be built until mid-week, he said. (Aaron Lynett/The Canadian Press)

Team leaders at Toyota Canada's manufacturing plants in Cambridge and Woodstock are expected to return to work Monday morning, the first step in a gradual process of reopening following an almost two month-long shutdown.

Workers will spend the day learning the new safety procedures that have been brought in to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Manufacturing lines will restart Wednesday and "a handful" of cars will be built Thursday, company president Frank Voss told CBC News.

"It'll take many weeks before we get into a rhythm for building cars," Voss said.

Toyota Canada first shuttered plants March 19 after a worker at Toyota Cambridge tested positive for COVID-19. To date, three people who worked there have tested positive, the company has confirmed. 

The company's timelines and safety procedures will be the same at plants in both Cambridge and Woodstock. 

Surveys, masks, temperature checks

Screening for COVID-19 will begin while workers are still at home, Voss said. Before arriving at work, employees will fill out a survey with questions about possible symptoms and past travel.

After they arrive at the plant, workers must sanitize their hands, put on a mask and have their temperatures taken before beginning work, Voss said.

Voss said the company is also following strict rules around physical distancing and sanitization. Barriers are in place in some areas and workers will be given cleaning products to wipe down high-touch surfaces.

"When you're going to eat lunch we provide products so you can clean the area" where the workers will be sitting, he said.

Employees are to wear masks at all times, he said. 

Cambridge MP Bryan May told CBC News the safety measures exceeded his expectations during a walk-through of the plant last week.

"I've never been in a building with so many hand sanitizer stations," said May, who had been among those calling on the company to shut down production in March.

"They're trying their best to make sure ... they don't have issues."

Lingering concerns

Lee Sperduti, a team leader at the Cambridge plant, said he commended Toyota for making changes but had lingering concerns about returning to work in a manufacturing plant.

More than 8,000 people work for Toyota in Woodstock and Cambridge, according to a company fact sheet.

"Am I fully at ease? No," said Sperduti. "If this is going to be the new norm, they've got to move forward and make sure we're adapting every single day and making the changes we need to change."

Workers at Toyota Canada will be expected to wear masks at work, said Voss. (Toyota Canada)

Sperduti said he wanted assurance that if a worker tested positive for COVID-19, their colleagues would be notified as soon as possible.

He said he also wanted to know what kind of leave may be available to those who call in to work or are sent home due to COVID-related symptoms.

According to Voss, if a worker tests positive at the plant, the company will follow public health protocols to identify close contacts of the positive case and to deep clean any affected areas before resuming production.

The company said those who have tested positive for COVID-19 or who have been directed to self-quarantine will be placed on paid leave.

Other automakers to resume production

Although sales have dipped during COVID-19, Voss said it hasn't been as severe as predicted.

"It's time for us to start to put cars back into the pipeline," he said.

Another measure of optimism on the company's part is that it is still using summer students. Voss said between 400-500 summer students will begin work in the weeks to come.

"They'll be joining us for production as we slowly begin to return to normal," he said.

Other Ontario automakers are also set to resume production in the coming weeks.

Fiat Chrysler Automotive is set to begin production at most North American facilities the week of May 18. The Ford Motor Company will also restart production in Windsor May 19 and in Oakville May 25.

General Motors will resume production at its CAMI plant in Ingersoll May 19, although a spokesperson said in an email some production in St. Catharines is expected this week.


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