Waller plant closes amid complaints about coronavirus safety after 2 workers test positive

WALLER, Texas – A manufacturing plant in Waller that employs thousands of workers announced it’s closing temporarily following a KPRC 2 investigation into employee complaints that the company was not following government guidelines for sanitation and social distancing.

The Daikin Texas Technology Plant, 19001 Kermier Rd, is a sprawling industrial complex where about 4,000 employees produce air conditioning equipment that is sold all over the world.

The plant confirmed Friday that one of its workers had tested positive for COVID-19. Then Tuesday, a second worker was confirmed to be infected.

But according to employees, as of Wednesday, the company still wasn’t following guidelines laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for sanitation and social distancing. Workers and their families who contacted KPRC 2 were scared.

“I don’t think they’re taking this seriously. I really don’t. They’re exposing their employees," one woman said. She asked to remain anonymous. "I believe its more about manufacturing, the money, than the health.”

Photos taken by a worker after the first positive coronavirus case was announced, show employees packed together, working and socializing without masks or gloves.

(Photos taken Daikin plant) (KPRC)

“They’re not taking...following the guidelines.” The same woman said. “They make it seem like they are from their point of view, but when you see the reality and conditions that employees are working in there, you see that that’s not the case.”

Workers were concerned not only for their own health and safety but also for their community. They are worried that an outbreak of the virus among the plant’s thousands of workers could prove catastrophic.

Wednesday afternoon the company responded to KPRC 2′s request for comment in writing, saying in part that the plant has been complying with all government requirements set out by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, including social distancing.

The company did add that because of the second confirmed case of the virus, the plant will close until April 13. When the plant reopens, the company will institute increased, staggered work times and assembly lines will be restructured to increase social distancing, protective face masks will be provided, and a system for checking body temperature will be provided for all employees.

A spokesperson for Hidalgo’s office also told KPRC 2 that the workers’ complaints will be investigated.

Daikin issued a statement Wednesday. Read the full statement below:

We value the safety of all team members. We have complied with all government requirements, including social distancing in compliance with the Order of Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, providing access to handwashing stations, and posting signage and employee notifications. We have also taken additional measures to help reduce the potential to spread of germs, including conducting training on recommended hygiene measures and social distancing, spacing out breakroom settings, limiting cafeteria options to “grab and go,” limiting internal meeting size, and help reduce the overall number of people at the facility through remote work. In addition, we have hand sanitizer throughout the facility that is available to all employees.

These are challenging and unprecedented times for all people and companies, including here at Daikin/Goodman.

Company personnel are “essential critical infrastructure workers” as identified by the Department of Homeland Security’s National Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) guidance and other governmental orders that have been issued to date. We are working hard during this difficult period to provide whatever support is needed in a timely fashion, including for medical facilities who are treating COVID-19 patients.

But no matter how essential this work may be, our priority remains the health and safety of our employees, their families, and our communities. Our priorities are demonstrated by our actions such as the closure and sanitization of the DTTP this past Friday.

Today, based on a report of an additional case of COVID-19 among DTTP employees, we have made the decision to temporarily close DTTP beginning today until April 13, 2020. Workers who are sent home during their shift will be paid for a full day of work.

This temporarily closure is for the purpose of optimizing our manufacturing operations to meet the challenges of the current situation. We have taken important steps already, but will be making additional changes for our 8,000 workers during the temporary closure, which include the following:

  • Increased use of staggered start times
  • Structural changes to the assembly line to maximize social distancing
  • Masks for employees who want them
  • Temperature check system for all employees

Like most every company in America, we will be operating differently and making adjustments on a regular basis to adapt to changing circumstances and the best guidance of health professionals and government officials.

We believe these additional changes, on top of those already in place – increased use of hand sanitizer, enhanced cleaning, changes to dining and break areas – will allow us to reopen on April 13th and resume our essential work for critically important organizations and facilities who rely on us. Likewise, we believe this duration will minimize financial challenges for those employees who will be taking unpaid time off during the closure. No current company employee will lose their job during this temporary closure.

Finally, while we are implementing a variety of strong measures to protect employees, we understand that some team members may not feel comfortable returning to work immediately. We will be working with those employees to help them manage the situation.