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West Fraser closes temporarily due to COVID-19

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Senior Staff Writer

The West Fraser mill in Maplesville has closed for the week of April 6 after two employees tested positive for COVID-19.

Tara Knight, who works in the communications department for West Fraser, said this closure was “a precaution for our employees’ wellness.”

“In accordance with guidance from the CDC and our own safety and health guidelines, there is a daily clean and disinfection for all of the high-touch surfaces and areas of concern,” Knight said on behalf of local mill Manager Dustin Moberg. “During this week, we are also conducting a deep clean of the facility and taking further steps to ensure our employees and contractors have the time to self-monitor for any potential transmission. We continue to monitor the situation and the health of our team closely.”

West Fraser’s corporate headquarters in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada released a COVID-19 response plan on its website on March 19. On April 3, the company released updated information on how coronavirus was impacting the company’s international production schedule.

The initial release stated, “Effective March 23, lumber production will be reduced at western Canada sawmills by approximately 18% or 12 million board feet per week and lumber production at the company’s U.S. South sawmills will be reduced by approximately 24% or 15 million board feet per week. These reductions will be implemented through various means including reduced operating hours, elimination of overtime, elimination of shifts and curtailment of operations. Shipping will be maintained as needed to fulfill order commitments. These temporary reductions are expected to stay in place until at least April 6.”

The updated release on April 3 stated the lumber sector of the company would continue to follow the initial plan.

The international company’s plan also included efforts “to reduce planned capital spending for 2020 by $75 million through the delay and deferral of projects that had not yet been started.”

Chilton County businesses and industries have seen their daily operations impacted by restrictions put in place on groups gathering and other efforts to decrease the spread of COVID-19.

In a letter to the company, Adient President and CEO Doug Del Grosso outlined the company’s efforts to keep employees safe and its response to a slowdown in the automotive industry.

“We have increased sanitization efforts and continue rigorous hygiene protocols in all our facilities. We have instituted a remote work policy for those who can perform their work from home. For those still working in our plants, we monitor employees’ health before they enter Adient facilities and have restricted all visitors,” Del Grosso wrote.

“Adient has taken proactive and immediate action to address these unanticipated events and the tremendous amount of uncertainty as to when production will resume,” Del Grosso said. “Our top priority is to reduce our cash burn rate and increase our liquidity. To advance this objective, we have acted quickly to implement actions to help mitigate the negative impact of lost sales, including the difficult, but prudent, decision to reduce the pay of non-plant employees in the U.S. by 20% — this includes my salary as well as those of the Board of Directors and my leadership team. In European countries, discussions have started with representative bodies to implement cost reduction actions, with or without government financial aid.”

The Chilton County Adient plant is located in the southern portion of the county.

Kumi Manufacturing North America, of which the Chilton County plant is a part, has also seen temporary closure of plants connected to Honda’s suspension of production. According to the company website, this closure began on March 18 and was expected to continue through April 7. However, on April 6, Honda announced a continuation of its production suspension, which will continue to impact the Kumi Manufacturing North America plants.