• Joe Rizzo

How Manufacturers have continued to operate during the Corona Virus Pandemic

The year 2019 was a great year for most people and most companies. We were able to celebrate the holidays with family and friends and savor the enjoyment As we looked back on a year of progress and success, little did we know that there was a formidable force brewing that would shutdown the entire world in just a matter of a month or two. The impact on the United States was not realized until March at which time things started to shut down, starting with flights from China and then Europe. Major League Sports started shutting down, starting with the NBA. Hockey, baseball and golf soon followed. As the number of cases started to increase the Governors started shutting down their states and ordered people to stay home. Schools, colleges, churches, airlines, restaurants, retail stores, trains, theaters, Broadway, barber shops, nail salons and most everything else shut down.

In just a few short months, life as we knew it, suddenly and totally, ended.

For a complete chronology of the Corona Virus pandemic, visit:


People’s and businesses’ most basic need of survival started to kick in.

Some businesses were declared “essential” and continued to operate with procedures and protocols to prevent the spread of the newly named, Corona Virus, now referred to as Covid 19.

Manufacturing in particular, found ways to stay in production. Three members of the NELC, deemed essential businesses, continued to operate with innovative systems, procedures and protocols that insured the safety of their employees, their customers, their vendors, and their respective communities.

Those three companies were:

  • Volk Packaging, a manufacturer of corrugated cartons, Biddeford, ME

  • Vibco Vibrators, a manufacturer of industrial vibrators, Wyoming, RI

  • Blow Molded Specialties, a manufacturer of blow molded products for the medical industry, Providence, RI

Their stories are below.

Volk Packaging by Derek Volk, President of Volk Packaging

"To our valued associates, customers and vendors, Volk Packaging is taking serious steps to prevent the spread of the Corona Virus/Covid 19, while recognizing that our product is essential to our economy and even our community health. We continue to monitor the progress of the virus and take appropriate steps as needed. Please know that in the event we run into difficulties producing our orders due to illness, we have relationships with our partners throughout New England and agreements to help each other out in the event of a shutdown of business (due to a pandemic, fire, flood, etc.). Volk Packaging is very healthy and in excellent shape for any economic downturn that may result from this crisis. We are not anticipating any negative impacts to orders being manufactured as planned and we have been pro-active in addressing this health crisis:

We at Volk Packaging Corporation, like all of you, have been fighting Corona virus in a lot of ways. This pandemic is tough but we are tougher!

Volk packaging: http://www.volkboxes.com/

* I hold a daily meeting for each shift, in the plant but over the PA system so people can see me, while they remain at their workstation. This has been a huge way to make people feel comfortable that we are on top of things daily. I try to find some good news to share with them every day. Some customers are doing well. I then send out a memo with the same info by email to all Volk email addresses and any plant employee who asked to get the emails. I’d be happy to send you the memos so far or add you to the list.

* We have applied and strongly urge you to apply for all federal money available! No company or sole proprietor is too small.

* The building is on lockdown. No one except employees comes in unless they are

absolutely essential. Even our sales reps are only allowed in if absolutely necessary. If they need a sample they pick it up outside the door of the Design Department.

* We hired babysitters for employees’ kids so everyone can come to work.

* We went to 3 shifts so people are spread out more, significantly limiting everyone’s

exposure. We also have each shift working every other machine so no two machines next to each other are running at the same time which also spreads people out for more.

* Shifts leave 15 minutes before every shift technically ends so they have no contact with the other shifts. They are paid for this time.

* Every shift begins with a thorough 15 minute cleaning of the machines.

* People are required to Shelter-in-Place at their machine, cubicle or office. No one is allowed to leave their work spot unless they have to go to the restroom. They are required to bring a bag lunch so nothing has to be warmed up, limiting people using the cafeteria. If they do have to get something, only 1 person is allowed in the cafeteria at a time. We pulled all the chairs out so no one is tempted to sit and mingle. We pulled the vending machines out as well.

* We prop the doors when people come and go so no one has to touch a door knob. We also propped open every other possible door.

* We have hand sanitizer everywhere possible, especially near anything that could get touched by more than one person. Everyone has been repeatedly asked to wipe down anything they touch or do so before they touch anything that others might touch.

* No one is allowed to hand someone else any paperwork. They are required to put it down and walk away. When they are 6’ away, the other person walks up to get it.

* Masks are available but optional.

* We put corrugated barriers up in as many places as we could to prevent face-to-face interaction. We cut holes in them and used clear tape to create a window so they could see each other.

* Meetings in the office are done by phone or in the conference room but only if the people in the conference room can stay 6’ apart. If it gets too crowded someone leaves and calls in.

* Associates must wash their hands after opening their mail.

* All dock doors and office windows are opened, weather permitting, to allow fresh air to flow better.

* I have been doing whatever I can to pick people’s spirits up. I bartered boxes with a customer for toilet paper. I got enough for 30 rolls for every employee. And I still have about 1,000 rolls left. Not everyone took some and the toilet paper customer keeps sending us more at no charge for getting them boxes quickly. I bartered another custom for whoopie pies to hand out (while wearing a mask and gloves) to every employee several different days. I even bartered a customer for beer so I could give everyone who wanted one a 6 pack on a Friday afternoon. Strange times because I am not sure which was more popular, the TP or the beer. :-)

* Also, in another effort to keep morale up, we started the “Volk Virus Giveaway.” Every day we will have a raffle giving away Volk swag (t-shirts, sunglasses, hats, etc.), Dunkin’ Donuts gift cards, Aroma Joe’s cards, etc.

* We taped instructions above every sink reminding people how to properly wash and dry their hands. Yes, there is a right way and a wrong way to wash your hands to limit the spread of COVID19.

* We have provided water bottles and encouraged people to drink as often as possible. If the virus gets in your mouth and you take a drink, it goes into your stomach where the stomach acid kills it.

* Associates who have a sick family member, even if they have not been diagnosed or tested with COVID19, have been asked to tell their supervisor.

* We explained to everyone how scammers are taking advantage of this so not to open any emails unless from a recognized person. And be careful about emails asking for charitable donations because people are abusing this situation to steal money from innocent people who just want to be helpful and compassionate.

* I remind people regularly that there is no playbook or precedents for a global pandemic so if anyone has any good ideas, please share them with me. I am open to any and all suggestions. If they go home and say to their spouse, “I wish they would X or Y at work,” please tell me what X or Y is because we might want to do it.

* We keep employees, customers, vendors, and friends updated through our Facebook

page at Facebook as well as through Instagram and my LinkedIn. We have also had

We keep employees, customers and vendors and friends updated through our Facebook page at Facebook as well as through Instagram and my LinkedIn. We have also had employees add this information to their email signature via a link.

I hope some of this was helpful.

Vibco Vibrators, by Karl Wadensten, President

  • Vibco Vibrators has never shutdown during this crisis, as an essential supplier to pharmaceutical medical, agricultural, food.

  • Karl has drafted a Policy entitled “Corona Virus Employee Information. The policy advises:

  • Employees to stay home is they have come in contact with someone who tested positive for the Corona Virus

  1. Any employee that has knowingly been in contact with anyone or anyplace that is infected with Covid19 , or suspecting they have Covid 19, will be terminated.

  2. To go on Direct Deposit of their check

  3. Fill prescriptions immediately or go on mail order Rx

  4. Use the internet to fill out on line forms

  5. They will get paid for the remainder of the day if they are instructed to go home during the day

  6. The use of PTO time if they have run out of vacation time

Vibco: http://www.vibco.com/products

  • Karl personally checks people’s temperatures and asks them a series of questions as they come to work, setting a tone that this is really important. The safety and well-being of our team is JOB 1 !

  • Karl has made arrangements with a local wholesale grocer to provide groceries for his people and with a local dairy to provide dairy products, helping to keep employees out of the super markets and avoiding large crowds.

  • Vibco employees get a 20% reduction in the price of their groceries.

  • Karl has found an opportunity for a health overlay and savings in FICA, which puts more money in the hands of his employees, to the tune of $6,500 per year, on average. Wellness has a telemedicine component that Vibco has had for over a year, when all the state leaders were preaching telemedicine. No one knew how to execute that, but Vibco found a way. This helps team members on the stay on the job, and gets them concierge service, especially where there is a shortage of primary care doctors.

  • One of the hallmarks of a Lean Consortium is the sharing of best practices. Derek Volk, President of Volk Packaging, was one of the first manufacturing executives to post on LinkedIn, all that he is doing to keep the employees, the customers, the vendors and the community safe, so that Volk Packaging, considered an essential business, could keep open and keep running. Karl read the article and adopted many of the ideas that Derek presented. Quote from Karl, “Seeing that post from Derek, was inspirational, and extremely informative to help us raise the bar, and adopt really good best practices, in a time when we were scrambling trying to get a game plan together.” Thanks Derek!

  • The Governor of Rhode Island has kept most businesses open in Rhode Island by taking the recommendations and suggestions of RIMA (Rhode Island manufacturing association) The advisory committee, of which Karl is a member.. RIMA drafted a pledge to keep the Rhode Island essential business’s up and running, unlike the neighboring states. This pledge helped 300 out of 1600 manufactures stay open, during the shelter in place order. They reached the governor of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo, at the 11th hour, of the 11th day of the 11th month, to show her that RI manufacturers are on the same page of health and wellness for our teams and that we understand the need for PPE. We actually added many best practices to existing guidelines. And even bigger, we would police ourselves as an organization, and take some of the burden off of the state and continue our economy, which was a fear across the USA.

Below is the link to the RIMA Pledge that Vibco helped author in order to keep the Rhode Island essential business’s running, unlike their neighboring states that shut everyone down.


Starting on day one, the signed pledge held each member responsible to each other and the company.

  • Vibco trademarked a new version of 5S by adding the 6th S of SANITIZE. This falls in well with original 5’s and will be an important component going forward with COVID or no COVID, as it will help during cold and flu season. This will serve as a great burning platform to stay on the lean principles. More now than ever, it really brought the awareness to a personal level, and the WHY which hit everyone right in the face.

  • Karl and RIMA have also taken the initiative to consider liability with all the concern of the Conona Virus. RIMA is working on a bill with the RI state legislature and Governor on Liability of people getting sick and attacking or filing lawsuits against companies. NAM is working on the same issue at the federal level, which is good. States can potentially override the Federal mandates. See the verbiage below. This is still in draft form and may not be the final wording.

“Any Rhode Island employer that is deemed to be in good faith compliance with applicable regulatory standards for business operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, as promulgated and enforced by [XXXX], shall thereafter enjoy immunity from any civil liability in connection with any claims by employees that they were infected with the corona virus, or that they contracted COVID-19, as a result of workplace exposure Employees making any such claims would be strictly limited to any remedies that they might otherwise enjoy under the Worker’s Compensation Act.”

So the real questions in Karl’s view are:

(1) Is this kind of statutory immunity necessary, or politically viable, in a state in which worker’s comp already creates an exclusive remedy for employees?

(2) Are we suggesting that any worker’s comp relief be eliminated too?

(3) To the extent that immunity from liability is tied to regulatory compliance, what are the guidelines or regulations and who promulgates or enforces them?

Thanks go out to Joe Rizzo and the New England Lean Consortium, for their communications vigilance, and as a great resource for the Unknown. Anyone not in the NELC or the RIMA group in Rhode Island is standing alone in a time of more questions than answers. I would urge all of us to get members into our fold, and share benefits. Many hands make for light work. This is not over yet!

We will be in a big cycle in the months and years to come, (doing more with less), and Employees will want to work at places that truly care about them! Actions will be louder than words.

Blow Molded Specialties by Avril Cook, General Manager

We’ve been operating throughout as we produce “essential” products. Thanks to input/support from the likes of you (the NELC) and many others, we’ve done an excellent job. We’ve been ahead of the curve with setting up and maintaining all sanitation and social distancing protocols. We’ve gone through 3 positive test results, all transmitted by family members to our employees. We deep cleaned and followed policy, but at the time each created its own flurry of questions, doubt and concern with employees randomly staying out.

Blow Molded: https://bmsplastics.com/

To help with communication we’ve installed monitors to stream information, post related posters and many atta boy memos. We’ve paid thank you bonuses and passed out gift cards etc. We also introduced “open floor” twice a day with a few key employees to discuss COVID-19 issues directly from the shop floor.

We have a core group of employees who always come through, and they did just that. They’ve shined, remained creative and engaged, and jumped each hurdle that’s come our way. I’m forever grateful. However, several employees were too afraid to work and stopped working from mid-late March. Some have recently returned and have come around with time and coaching. Others are still out, some on emergency family & medical leave. As a result we’ve not been able to meet customer demand. In March and April I honored our supervisors request to NOT bring in new employees as the training requires close contact for a prolonged time. To make this happen, other employees worked 12 and even 16 hour shifts to keep machines running.

We’ve put a revised training program in place and ready to ramp up. However, finding new/additional employees, either from temp agencies, which is our preferred way, or using DOL&T, is difficult. Polaris MEP RI is telling me that prospective employees require a minimum of $15.00/hour to even consider working. Also, the perks of the stimulus package makes unemployment more attractive than working for many of our shop floor employees. Some have applied and have been “rubber stamped” without reviewing employer input. We’re addressing this with the DOL&T. Simply, these are the challenges we’re facing right now. However, it doesn’t compare to the roller coaster of emotions dealing with the COVID-19 challenges of the past 8 weeks.

Gradually we’ve become accustomed to the “new norm”, and there are less questions and concerns being raised. However, with the state opening up, we’re mindful we could go backwards, and we’re sharing this concern with our employees.

Final Commentary

The human spirit has once again faced severe problems and has found the energy and positive attitude to persevere and overcome the adversities. Many innovative ways of working have been developed, literally overnight, and will continue once the pandemic is under control. Some of them are:

  • Companies have learned that many people can do their job from home.

  • On line educational teaching is possible, but needs to be perfected

  • Zoom has become the favored way of holding a meeting or conducting a workshop or a seminar

  • Grocery chains have developed online shopping and have offered home delivery services.

  • Grocery stores have created directional flow in their aisles

  • Grocery stores have created one-piece flow at checkout

  • Restaurants have developed order on line and take out services

  • Credit cards have become the preferred way of paying for goods and services

  • Shopping on line versus in store shopping has become the preferred way of shopping

  • Travel has been reduced significantly with a corresponding drop in the price of gasoline.

  • The price of home heating fuel has dropped significantly

There will be a “new normal” once the pandemic is under control. There will be winners, such as Amazon and Target, and losers such as the airlines and the oil companies. But overall, civilization will advance. It always does.