USW Members Step Up To Produce Hand Sanitizer for Hospitals

Local 9-562-02 at the Huntsman chemical plant in McIntosh, Ala., worked with the company to provide much-needed hand sanitizer for health care facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Two bargaining unit members volunteered to produce the hand sanitizer in the company’s research and development department, while others picked up their job duties, said Local 9-562-02 Unit Chairman Butch Ettawil.

“Producing hand sanitizer is a small scale, hands-on operation that is separate from the production process,” he said.

The site produces resin and specialty polymers for military and aerospace applications, high-end cars, sporting goods and even items like windmill blades, Ettawil said.

After the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued temporary guidelines that enabled Huntsman to produce the hand sanitizer, the company got LyondellBasell to donate FDA-approved isopropyl alcohol (IPA)—a main ingredient in hand sanitizer, the company stated in a press release. Another ingredient, FDA-approved deionized water, was purchased by Huntsman.

Ettawil said the two workers who volunteered to make the hand sanitizer had to be trained on handling FDA-approved IPA.

On April 6, Huntsman donated 700 pounds of hand sanitizer—a two-month supply—to the Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) and associated medical facilities at the University of Utah. The late Jon M. Huntsman, founder of Huntsman Corporation, established HCI at the university.

“We were happy to help out,” Ettawil said. “It is a proud feeling to be able to do something for people, especially when there is such need for it.”

He said there is talk about making another batch of hand sanitizer and that the site is waiting on raw materials. Other hospitals and organizations contacted Huntsman and requested donated hand sanitizer, he said.

Producing during a pandemic

“Everybody is still working,” Ettawil said. “Business is slower, but production is up and running.”

He said that Huntsman bought a 55-gallon drum of hand sanitizer for the employees.

“We’re practicing social distancing and limiting the number of people in the breakroom and control room,” he added. “Company meetings have been cancelled. Matters are discussed over the phone. The local is not having meetings.”

Ettawil said that as workers enter, a BASF emergency medical technician (EMT) asks a few questions, like whether the employee has been around someone who could have COVID-19 or if they traveled out of the country or flew anywhere. Then, the EMT takes people’s temperatures by pointing an infrared thermometer gun at them while they sit in their vehicle.

“If you have a high fever (above 100.5 temperature), you are sent out of the facility and have to see a doctor to be cleared to return to work,” Ettawil said. “People with allergies saw a doctor and got cleared to return to work.”

The USW negotiated these protections against COVID-19 with BASF in mid-March.

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