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Reuters: How One Silicon Valley Factory Keeps Running in the Age of Coronavirus

For factories deemed “essential,” staffing remains a challenge.

At a time when many businesses have been forced to close in adherence with the shelter-in-place protocols ordered in cities across the U.S., the “essential business” designation has become a coveted lifeline keeping a small number of businesses afloat. 

Offering a closer look at the challenges that come with that designation, Reuters profiled a Silicon Valley electronics factory that produces equipment used for medical and defense supplies.

Green Circuits did not originally manufacture products specifically for medical and defense supplies, and it’s management was surprised when clients told the factory its products were needed for essential equipment. Rather than having to halt production lines, like so many factories across the U.S., Green Circuits quickly found it had no choice but to keep producing.

“The defense customers were the first to let us know” that they had to keep producing, said Joseph O’Neil, the company’s chief executive officer. They said “meet our delivery dates, or we will show up to help you do it,” he added.

Green Circuits quickly moved to redesign worker schedules to keep up with demand, but the risk of exposure to COVID-19 remains a constant threat with dire consequences.

The company, owned by the Dallas-based private equity firm Evolve Capital, always had the first and second shifts overlap for a half-hour. That allowed workers arriving in the afternoon to confer with colleagues as they handed off duties.


But O’Neil said they realized that would risk their whole workforce getting quarantined for 14 days, if someone got infected by the coronavirus and spent time at the factory as part of this larger group.

And that’s assuming Green Circuit could even convince its employees to show up, something that has proven difficult, even as unemployment numbers skyrocket.

The company began calling workers, pleading with them to keep going, and created a website — in English, Spanish, Korean and Vietnamese — to communicate updates on the safety measures they were putting in place and the essential nature of their work. The company assigned one worker on each shift to do nothing but move through the factory, cleaning surfaces. 

The plant is currently evaluating a plan to pay workers an additional $2 per hour at least through April (though not paid until December) to encourage retention.

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