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Workers ’scared’ manufacturing company remains open during pandemic

Several employees of Bradford White in Barry County reached out to FOX 17 saying ‘this is a health crisis’
Employees at the Bradford White Corp. concerned about company's decision to remain open during the coronavirus pandemic.
Posted at 8:09 PM, Mar 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-26 14:22:52-04

MIDDLEVILLE, Mich. — The Bradford White Corporation on Lafayette Street specializes in making water heaters, said a few employees who work at the manufacturing company.

Monday Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a ‘stay-in-home’ executive order to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

The Bradford White Corporation decided to remain open, they said.

Typhanie Russell said that decision left a lot of employees ‘scared.’

“A lot of our people here at Bradford White don’t want to be here,” Russell said during an interview with FOX 17 on Wednesday. “They’re afraid for their lives. The conditions on the line, where I do not work, are elbow to elbow.”

Russell said employees have not been given masks, gloves, or any personal protection equipment to wear while working.

“I have an autoimmune disease that attacks my entire endocrine system. So, I’m at risk,” Russell said. “People are just scared and they’re crying and they’re upset and they just want to be home and safe with their families.”

Russell is one of several employees who emailed FOX 17 this week detailing their concerns about the company’s decision to remain open during the pandemic.

A few people spoke to FOX 17 anonymously.

“There’s a lot of people lives at risk here. A lot of people are afraid to take time off because they’re the only sole supporter for their family,” said one employee during a phone interview Wednesday morning. “Employment doesn’t pay what we pay. But at the same time they’re fighting between staying at work and providing for their family.”

That employee called the situation a ‘health crisis’ and that it should be treated that way.

Another employee said in a different phone interview that employees can’t practice social-distancing at the facility. And in some cases they’re working with metal that’s been touched by dozens of other people.

“There’s over 1200 people at that shop. We’re all interacting with each other,” said the employee. “They did change our lunch times and breaks but you have one line that has 70 people on it.”

Russell said that people have complained and have even reached out to the govenor's office. And, when they asked Bradford White why they chose to remain open, employees were told that the company sees itself as essential service because hot water is necessary for cleaning.

FOX 17 reached out to The Bradford White Corporation for a statement. Here’s is what they said in part:

“Hot water is vital for sanitizing and hygienic purposes in many industries, and water heaters are essential appliances critical to infrastructure and public health. Our commercial and space heating appliances, which can heat water to 180 degrees for heating homes and sanitizing purposes, are supporting front line workers such as health care professionals as they work to treat patients and prevent the spread of COVID-19. More than 26,000 water heaters are installed every day in the United States with nearly 90% of those are emergency replacements and Bradford White is a significant part of the supply chain facilitating emergency installations.”

Russell said currently the water heaters they’re making are going into storage.

“There’s no reason that hot water heaters should be essential when we can boil water on stoves,” Russell said. “And there’s many many places that have them in stock: Home Depot, Lowes, Menards and there’s warehouses full of them.”

The statement also said that they’ve taken steps to ‘protect the health and safety of our employees,’ like ‘requiring employees who are experiencing any cold or flu-like symptoms to stay at home, limiting person-to-person contact on the job, enhancing cleaning procedures in the plant, providing cleaning equipment,' among others.

One employee messaged the station Wednesday evening stating that because of FOX 17’s reporting Bradford White has now given out bandanas to employees.

Ultimately, Russell believes the facility should close until the governor’s order is lifted.

“We’re just going to spread this virus and keep spreading it until when? ’Til someone dies?” Russell asked rhetorically. “Is that their wake-up call? I don’t know. It’s really sad and I’m terrified for myself and all my co-workers who don’t want to be here.”

***Here's the Bradford White Statement in full.***