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Central Plastics pushes past pandemic problems

Vicky O. Misa
In October, Georg Fischer Central Plastics, at 39605 W. Independence, received OSHA VPP Star certification — a voluntary protection program award.

One of Shawnee's biggest employers has established some unique work-arounds to overcome challenges due to the the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.

Not only is Georg Fischer Central Plastics still open and running, it is expanding operations and providing more than $1 million every two weeks in payroll and benefits for its close to 645 employees.

Human Resources Director Dani Shields, with Central Plastics, said, the company is consistently watching the CDC, federal and state guidelines as well as recommended industry standards and so far have exceeded those health and safety recommendations.

She said the plant proactively began by cleaning and disinfecting every 60 to 90 minutes all high touch areas and restrooms, wiping down manufacturing equipment between shifts, having all employees wear disposable masks while on property, and requiring daily temperature taking and issuing color-coded wristbands long before many guidelines were recommended.

“The wristbands signify that the person wearing it has had his or her temperature checked and has been cleared to work that day,” she said. “The wristbands color changes daily, at random.”

Also, along with adjusting shifts and break times, people were assigned particular doors to enter and exit from, she said.

To space people out more, she said the company converted unused meeting rooms into additional break rooms and stocked them with free drinks and snacks for onsite employees.

“We took out half of the seating in our break areas, so we needed to add extra rooms to accommodate the social distancing guidelines,” she explained.

Central Plastics is now providing free meals to its workers from local restaurants as a way to further support the Shawnee economy and its workforce.

“We were concerned about people going to lunch at the gas station across the street or even to restaurants and wanted to keep them from going out,” she said, “so we are bringing in meals — even at midnight — twice a week from local restaurants like The Lunchbox, Don Ciros, Paul's Place and Billy Boy's as a way to keep them here and to also provide one less thing they have to think about during this time when we are being asked to keep up with so much.”

An issue that quickly needed attention was how to limit touching the time clocks.

“We have biometric time clocks, so we were concerned about the spread of germs through the finger scans there,” Shields said. “We have given employees the option to clock in through an app on their smart phones as a work around that situation.”

Also, all people able to work remotely are doing so, she said.

“This includes anyone not directly involved in the production of product and certain management — a little over 50 people at this time,” she said. “We have put certain tools in place to make sure that the remote workforce continues to feel connected to the company.”

One of those tools is Microsoft Teams to share files, instant messaging and internet and team calls, she explained.

“We also send a daily update to all employees,” she said. “This update provides news about what to expect next within the company, what is going on in Pottawatomie County, the state, and the nation in relation to COVID-19, testing and treatment.”

She said it actually has worked out very well for most people.

“Some have a less than desirable internet connection at home, so we had to take some additional measures for them,” she added.

She said what's been especially challenging has been just trying to balance what the company has wanted to do with what was cost prohibitive.

“All the safety measures we are taking cost money,” she said. “At the end of the day, the health and safety of our employees and workers is of utmost importance, but we do need to keep our doors open for everyone's sake.”

Since Central Plastics has over 500 employees, Shields said it does not qualify for government loans and its employees don't qualify for the new FFCRA paid leave.

“This area has suffered significantly already with layoffs and closures; we don't want to add to that suffering,” she said.

It is important that our community knows the good that is going on in Pottawatomie County, she said, as well as to know that those folks who have been negatively impacted have an opportunity to come and apply for an open position.

She said Central Plastics is continuing to hire and expand, as well as work to support the Community Market and their efforts to help feed the community.

“We want Shawnee to know that while we absolutely believe that the health care workers, first responders, day care workers and delivery drivers are all heroes for keeping the rest of us safe and working, we also believe that our manufacturing employees are heroes because they are keeping the economy moving in this time when over 22 million workers have lost their jobs nationwide,” she said.